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A balance disorder is an ailment that causes you to feel dizzy or unsteady, producing the sensation of spinning or floating or moving. And while short or minor episodes of dizziness are normal and no cause for worry, more intense sensations of spinning (vertigo) or prolonged dizzy spells should be assessed.

Coupled with dizziness, you may also encounter other symptoms including nausea, variations in heart rate, anxiety, or panic. Again, if these symptoms are especially severe or prolonged, it’s wise to seek professional care.

The types and causes of balance disorders are numerous, but before we get to that, let’s briefly review how the body ordinarily maintains its sense of balance.

How the body preserves its balance

We take our 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 quite an extraordinary feat.

Even in motion, your body is able to sense its location in space and make modifications to hold your body upright, while calling for little to any conscious regulation. Even when you close your eyes, and eliminate all visual signs, you can accurately sense the position of your head as you shift 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 changes 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 placed at about 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, together with 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 capacity to assess and act on the information.

Balance disorders can therefore 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, 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 starts by ruling out any medical conditions or medications that might be causing the symptoms. You might be required to switch medications or seek treatment for any underlying cardiovascular, neurological, or musculoskeletal condition.

If your balance problem is due to 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 ease the symptoms. Your healthcare provider can offer more information specific to your condition and symptoms.

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