A balance disorder is a condition that makes you feel dizzy or unsteady, creating the sensation of spinning or floating or moving. And while brief or minor episodes of dizziness are normal and no cause for concern, more serious sensations of spinning (vertigo) or chronic dizzy spells should be evaluated.
Along with dizziness, you may also experience other symptoms including nausea, changes in heart rate, anxiety, or panic. Again, if these episodes are particularly intense or prolonged, 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 briefly review how the body ordinarily sustains its sense of balance.
How the body keeps its balance
We take the body’s facility to maintain balance for granted because it typically operates 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 location in space and make modifications to hold your body upright, while calling for very little to any conscious regulation. Even if you close your eyes, and take away all visual cues, you can accurately sense the position of your head as you move it up or down, left or right.
That’s because your vestibular system—the collection of organs and structures in your inner ear—can sense any changes in your head position, sending nerve signals to alert your brain of the change.
Structures in the inner ear referred to as semicircular canals contain three fluid-filled ducts positioned 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 combination with visual cues and musculoskeletal sensory information, alerts 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 capability to ascertain and use 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 heart conditions, and certain neurological conditions.
Common balance disorders include Meniere’s Disease, Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), Labyrinthitis, Vestibular Neuronitis, along with many others. Each disorder has its own unique 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 generating the symptoms. You may need to change medications or seek out 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 incorporate diet and lifestyle changes, physical manipulations of the head, or medications to lessen the symptoms. Your healthcare provider can supply additional information specific to your condition and symptoms.