A balance disorder is an ailment that makes you feel dizzy or unsteady, producing the sensation of spinning or floating or moving. And although brief or trivial episodes of dizziness are common and no cause for worry, more extreme sensations of spinning (vertigo) or chronic dizzy spells should be assessed.
In combination with dizziness, you may also encounter other symptoms like nausea, increased heart rate, anxiety, or panic. Again, if these symptoms are particularly extreme or extended, it’s wise to seek out professional care.
The types and causes of balance disorders are diverse, but before we get to that, let’s quickly review how the body normally sustains its sense of balance.
How the body maintains its balance
We take our body’s ability to maintain balance for granted because it usually works effortlessly behind the scenes. But when you think about it, maintaining balance is quite an extraordinary feat.
Even in motion, your body is able to perceive its position and make corrections to keep your body upright, while calling for very little to any conscious control. Even when you close your eyes, and take away all visual signs, you can precisely sense the position of your head as you move it up or down, left or right.
That’s because your vestibular system—the group of organs and structures in your inner ear—can sense any modifications to your head position, transmitting nerve signals to notify your brain of the change.
Structures in the inner ear referred to as semicircular canals include three fluid-filled ducts placed at approximately right angles to each other. When you move your head, the fluid moves together with it, stimulating the nerve cells that send the information to your brain.
This, in addition to visual cues and musculoskeletal sensory information, signals the brain to highly accurate changes in head and body position.
Common balance disorders and causes
Balance disorders result from a dysfunction within the vestibular system or with the brain and its capability to evaluate and act upon the information.
Balance disorders can for that reason be caused by anything that influences the inner ear or brain. This list includes, but is not limited to, medications, benign tumors, ear infections, head injuries, low blood pressure or other cardiovascular conditions, and certain neurological conditions.
Common balance disorders include Meniere’s Disease, Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), Labyrinthitis, Vestibular Neuronitis, together with several others. Each disorder has its own specific causes and symptoms and can be diagnosed only by a professional.
Diagnosis and treatment of balance disorders
The diagnosis and treatment of any balance disorder starts by ruling out any medical conditions or medications that may be producing the symptoms. You may be required to change medications or seek treatment for any underlying heart, neurological, or musculoskeletal condition.
If your balance problem is a consequence of problems with the inner ear, such as with Meniere’s Disease, treatment may include dietary and lifestyle changes, physical manipulations of the head, or medications to reduce the symptoms. Your healthcare provider can provide additional information specified to your condition and symptoms.