A balance disorder is a condition that makes you feel dizzy or unsteady, creating the sensation of spinning or floating or moving. And although short or trivial episodes of dizziness are normal and no cause for worry, more serious sensations of spinning (vertigo) or protracted dizzy spells should be assessed.
In combination with dizziness, you may also encounter other symptoms including nausea, increased heart rate, anxiety, or panic. Again, if these episodes are especially intense or extended, it’s best 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 preserves its sense of balance.
How the body preserves its balance
We take the body’s capacity to maintain balance for granted because it usually operates effortlessly behind the scenes. But when you give it some thought, maintaining balance is quite an extraordinary feat.
Even in motion, your body is able to perceive its location in space and make modifications to hold your body upright, while calling for very little to any mindful control. Even when you close your eyes, and remove all visual cues, 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 detect any alterations in your head position, sending nerve signals to inform your brain of the change.
Structures in the inner ear referred to as semicircular canals contain three fluid-filled ducts placed at roughly right angles to each other. When you move your head, the fluid moves along 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 exact modifications in head and body position.
Common balance disorders and causes
Balance disorders result from a disruption within the vestibular system or with the brain and its capacity to evaluate and act upon the information.
Balance disorders can therefore be caused by anything that affects the inner ear or brain. This list includes, but is not restricted to, medications, benign tumors, ear infections, head injuries, low blood pressure or other cardiovascular conditions, and some neurological conditions.
Common balance disorders include Meniere’s Disease, Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), Labyrinthitis, Vestibular Neuronitis, along with several others. Each disorder has its own distinct 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 begins by ruling out any medical conditions or medications that might be producing the symptoms. You might be required to switch 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 consist of nutritional and lifestyle changes, physical manipulations of the head, or medications to lessen the symptoms. Your healthcare provider can offer more information specified to your condition and symptoms.