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A balance disorder is an ailment that makes you feel dizzy or unsteady, creating the sensation of spinning or floating or moving. And although abbreviated or trivial episodes of dizziness are commonplace and no cause for worry, more serious sensations of spinning (vertigo) or sustained dizzy spells should be assessed.

In conjunction with dizziness, you may also experience other symptoms such as nausea, variations in heart rate, anxiety, or panic. Again, if these episodes are especially extreme or extended, it’s best to seek professional care.

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

How the body keeps its balance

We take our body’s ability to maintain balance for granted because it typically works effortlessly behind the scenes. But when you think about it, maintaining balance is really an extraordinary feat.

Even in motion, your body is able to sense its position and make corrections to hold your body upright, while requiring very little to any conscious control. Even if 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 assortment of organs and structures in your inner ear—can detect 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 positioned 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, together with visual cues and musculoskeletal sensory information, signals the brain to highly accurate modifications in head and body position.

Common balance disorders and causes

Balance disorders are the result of a dysfunction within the vestibular system or with the brain and its capacity to evaluate and act upon 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 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 begins by ruling out any medical conditions or medications that may be inducing the symptoms. You might be required to switch medications or seek out treatment for any underlying heart, 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 nutritional and lifestyle changes, physical manipulations of the head, or medications to reduce the symptoms. Your healthcare provider can provide more information specific to your condition and symptoms.

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