A balance disorder is a condition that causes you to feel dizzy or unsteady, creating the sensation of spinning or floating or moving. And while short or trivial episodes of dizziness are common and no cause for worry, more extreme sensations of spinning (vertigo) or prolonged dizzy spells should be examined.
Apart from dizziness, you may also experience other symptoms such as nausea, variations in heart rate, anxiety, or panic. Again, if these episodes are especially intense or extended, it’s wise to seek out professional care.
The types and causes of balance disorders are varied, but before we get to that, let’s briefly review how the body ordinarily maintains its sense of balance.
How the body keeps its balance
We take the body’s facility to maintain balance for granted because it typically works effortlessly behind-the-scenes. But when you give it some thought, maintaining balance is really a remarkable feat.
Even in motion, your body is able to sense its position and make modifications to keep your body upright, while calling for 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 shift it up or down, left or right.
That’s because your vestibular system—the collection of organs and structures in your inner ear—can detect any alterations in your head position, sending nerve signals to alert your brain of the change.
Structures in the inner ear known as semicircular canals include 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, 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 result from a disturbance within the vestibular system or with the brain and its capacity to ascertain and use the information.
Balance disorders can therefore 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 heart conditions, and some neurological conditions.
Common balance disorders include Meniere’s Disease, Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), Labyrinthitis, Vestibular Neuronitis, together 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 may be inducing the symptoms. You may need to change medications or seek treatment for any underlying heart, neurological, or musculoskeletal condition.
If your balance problem is due to issues with the inner ear, such as with Meniere’s Disease, treatment may include things like nutritional and lifestyle changes, physical manipulations of the head, or medications to lessen the symptoms. Your healthcare provider can offer additional information specific to your condition and symptoms.