Balance Disorders

Balance is defined as the body’s ability to maintain its center of mass over its base of support. Proper balance is essential for remaining upright, determining direction and speed, maintaining clear vision while moving and orienting yourself with respect to gravity. The human balance system is complex, relying on sensory input from the eyes, muscles and joints, as well as the vestibular system. Any disruption in this data can create false signals to the brain, leading to dizziness or vertigo and increasing the risk of falls.

Balance disorders are a common complaint among adults in Michigan and throughout the U.S. The majority do not signify a serious condition, but any balance disorder can lead to falls, a major cause of hospitalization, and even death, in the elderly. If you are experiencing balance problems, it is essential you be evaluated by a professional in order to rule out any serious underlying condition and prevent injury.

What causes a balance disorder?

The human balance system is responsible for balance and coordination. The eyes transmit electrical signals to the brain that indicate our orientation in relation to surrounding objects, while information from the skin, muscles and joints tells the brain when we are moving and our body’s position in space. The vestibular system, comprised of the utricle, saccule and semicircular canals, detect gravity, linear movement and rotational movement. Together, this system provides data that the brain uses to coordinate movement. When this sensory information is compromised, balance impairment may occur.

There are many conditions that may contribute to a balance disorder. The list of possible causes includes:

  • Benign tumors
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Dehydration
  • Head trauma
  • Hypertension
  • Inner ear abnormalities
  • Low blood pressure
  • Neurological disorders
  • Vascular disorders
  • Viral and bacterial infections

Balance disorder symptoms

Symptoms of a balance disorder include:

  • Anxiety
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Dizziness
  • Faintness
  • Fatigue
  • Fullness in the ear
  • Hearing loss
  • Lack of concentration
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Vertigo
  • Vomiting

Many people lump dizziness and vertigo into the same category, but in reality they refer to different sensations; dizziness is associated with a general feeling of unsteadiness or disequilibrium, while vertigo refers to a feeling that your surroundings are in motion and is often equated with a sensation that the room is spinning.

Balance disorder treatment

Treatment will depend on the underlying cause. Possible solutions include medications such as antihistamines, sedatives, antibiotics or steroids; physical therapy; vestibular rehabilitation exercises; surgery and changes to your lifestyle. It is best to seek treatment as soon as possible in order to reduce or eliminate the symptoms of a balance disorder.

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