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A balance disorder is a condition that makes you feel dizzy or unsteady, inducing the sensation of spinning or floating or moving. And while brief or trivial episodes of dizziness are commonplace and no cause for worry, more severe sensations of spinning (vertigo) or protracted dizzy spells should be evaluated.

In conjunction with dizziness, you may also encounter other symptoms including nausea, increased heart rate, anxiety, or panic. Again, if these symptoms are especially severe or prolonged, it’s a good idea to seek professional care.

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

How the body sustains its balance

We take the body’s ability to maintain balance for granted because it customarily operates effortlessly behind-the-scenes. But when you give it some thought, maintaining balance is quite an impressive feat.

Even in motion, your body is able to sense its position and make modifications to keep your body upright, while requiring very little to any conscious regulation. Even when you close your eyes, and do away with all visual signs, 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 assortment of organs and structures in your inner ear—can sense any alterations in your head position, transmitting nerve signals to notify your brain of the change.

Structures in the inner ear called semicircular canals consist of three fluid-filled ducts placed at about 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, along with visual cues and musculoskeletal sensory information, alerts the brain to highly accurate modifications in head and body position.

Common balance disorders and causes

Balance disorders are a consequence of a disturbance within the vestibular system or with the brain and its capability to analyze and use the information.

Balance disorders can consequently be caused by anything that has an effect on 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, 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 may be creating the symptoms. You might need to switch medications or seek out treatment for any underlying cardiovascular, neurological, or musculoskeletal condition.

If your balance problem is a consequence of issues with the inner ear, such as with Meniere’s Disease, treatment may include nutritional and lifestyle changes, physical manipulations of the head, or medications to minimize the symptoms. Your healthcare provider can provide more information specified to your condition and symptoms.