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Balance Disorders

The body's ability to balance is very complicated. Your eyes, your muscles and the inner ear's gyroscope mechanism send information to your brain. The brain then interprets this information and tells your body how to move to stay balanced and upright. A healthy balance or vestibular system compensates for daily changes in our spatial orientation.

A balance disorder is a disturbance that causes an individual to feel unsteady, dizzy, woozy, or have a sensation of movement, spinning or floating.

Learn more about the symptoms associated with balance disorders.

Causes of Balance Disorders

Since the balance system has so many components with interdependent functions, it is not surprising to find literally hundreds of different causes of balance problems, but the causes can be placed into three main groups:

1. Damage to the central nervous system

  • decreased blood flow to the brain due to stroke or a chronic condition such as aging
  • traumatic brain injury
  • multiple sclerosis
  • hydrocephalus
  • seizures
  • Parkinson's disease
  • cerebellar diseases
  • acoustic neuromas and other brain tumors

Any disease that interferes with the proper functioning of the central nervous system can also cause balance problems. Examples include abnormal heart rhythms, congestive heart failure, anemia, diabetes, dehydration and thyroid disorders.

2. Trauma to the inner ear or head

  • infections or abscesses (viral or bacterial)
  • disorders of blood circulation affecting the inner ear or brain
  • migraine-associated dizziness (with or without headache)
  • benign positional vertigo
  • traumatic inner ear dysfunction due to falls or whiplash

3. Other causes

  • Meniere's disease
  • certain medications
  • medication interaction (polypharmacy)
  • labyrinthitis
  • vestibular neuronitis           

In addition, as we age we experience a general decrease in vestibular function. The elderly also usually experience an overall decrease in vision, position sense (proprioception), muscle and bone strength, and brain function. All of these changes combined often lead to a slowly progressive feeling of imbalance.