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A balance disorder is an ailment that makes you feel dizzy or unsteady, producing the sensation of spinning or floating or moving. And although short or trivial episodes of dizziness are commonplace and no cause for concern, more intense sensations of spinning (vertigo) or long term dizzy spells should be examined.

Apart from dizziness, you may also encounter other symptoms such as nausea, a change in heart rate, anxiety, or panic. Again, if these symptoms are particularly severe or extended, it’s best to seek out 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 keeps its balance

We take our body’s capacity to maintain balance for granted because it typically works effortlessly behind the scenes. But when you give it some thought, maintaining balance is really an incredible feat.

Even in motion, your body is able to perceive its location in space and make modifications to hold your body upright, while calling for very little to any conscious regulation. Even if you close your eyes, and remove 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 array of organs and structures in your inner ear—can sense any modifications to your head position, sending nerve signals to alert your brain of the change.

Structures in the inner ear referred to as semicircular canals possess three fluid-filled ducts positioned 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, 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 capacity to analyze and act on 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 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 specific 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 might be producing the symptoms. You might need to change medications or seek treatment for any underlying cardiovascular, neurological, or musculoskeletal condition.

If your balance problem is caused by issues 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 minimize the symptoms. Your healthcare provider can provide more information specified to your condition and symptoms.

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