A balance disorder is an ailment that causes you to feel dizzy or unsteady, creating the sensation of spinning or floating or moving. And although short or minor episodes of dizziness are commonplace and no cause for concern, more intense sensations of spinning (vertigo) or protracted dizzy spells should be evaluated.
On top of dizziness, you may also encounter other symptoms like nausea, variations in heart rate, anxiety, or panic. Again, if these episodes are especially extreme or prolonged, it’s a good idea to seek professional care.
The types and causes of balance disorders are varied, but before we get to that, let’s quickly review how the body ordinarily preserves its sense of balance.
How the body preserves its balance
We take the body’s skill to maintain balance for granted because it typically operates effortlessly behind-the-scenes. But when you think about it, maintaining balance is really an incredible feat.
Even in motion, your body is able to perceive its location in space and make modifications to keep your body upright, while requiring very little to any mindful regulation. Even when you close your eyes, and remove 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 array of organs and structures in your inner ear—can sense any alterations in your head position, sending nerve signals to alert your brain of the change.
Structures in the inner ear called semicircular canals have three fluid-filled ducts positioned 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, coupled with visual cues and musculoskeletal sensory information, signals the brain to precise modifications in head and body position.
Common balance disorders and causes
Balance disorders are the result of a disturbance within the vestibular system or with the brain and its ability to ascertain and use the information.
Balance disorders can for that reason be caused by anything that disturbs 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 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 starts by ruling out any medical conditions or medications that might be generating the symptoms. You may need to switch medications or seek treatment for any underlying heart, neurological, or musculoskeletal condition.
If your balance problem is caused by problems with the inner ear, such as with Meniere’s Disease, treatment may incorporate dietary and lifestyle changes, physical manipulations of the head, or medications to lessen the symptoms. Your healthcare provider can supply more information specified to your condition and symptoms.