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What causes gait abnormality? 18 possible conditions

What Are Gait and Balance Problems?

Gait (the process of walking) and balance are intricate movements. They rely on proper functioning from several areas of the body. These include the ears, eyes, brain, and muscles. Problems with any of these areas can lead to walking difficulties, falls, or injury if not addressed.

Walking difficulties may be temporary or long-term, depending on the cause. 

What Causes Gait and Balance Problems?

Potential causes of temporary gait or balance problems include injury, trauma, inflammation, or pain. Longer-term difficulties often result from muscular neurological issues.

Problems with gait, balance, and coordination are often caused by specific conditions. These include:

  • joint pain or conditions, such as arthritis
  • multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Meniere's disease
  • brain hemorrhage
  • brain tumor
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Arnold-Chiari malformation
  • spinal cord compression or infarction
  • Guillain Barre
  • peripheral neuropathy
  • myopathy
  • cerebral palsy
  • gout
  • muscular dystrophy

Obesity, chronic alcohol abuse, vitamin B12 deficiency, and stroke are other causes. The condition may also be the result of vertigo, migraines, deformities, and certain medications including antihypertensives.

Gait and balance problems can be a result of pain, muscle weakness, muscle tightness or spasticity, loss of balance, or poor posture. Other causes include limited range of motion, numbness (sensory deficit), and fatigue. Muscle weakness can occur in one leg or both, and make walking difficult. Foot numbness makes it difficult to know where the feet are moving or whether they are touching the floor.

Symptoms of Gait and Balance Problems

The most common symptoms of gait and balance problems include difficulty walking, trouble with balance, and unsteadiness. Patients can experience dizziness, light-headedness, vertigo, motion sickness, or double vision.

Other symptoms may occur depending on the underlying cause or condition.

Diagnosing Gait and Balance Problems

A physical and neurological examination can diagnose gait or balance problems. Doctors typically also ask questions about symptoms and severity.

Performance testing can then be used to assess individual gait difficulties. Potential further tests to identify causes include hearing tests, inner ear imaging, and vision tests including watching eye movement. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a computed tomography (CT) scan can check the brain and/or blood pressure/heart rates tests. A doctor will look to find which part of the nervous system is contributing to the gait and balance problems.

Treating Gait and Balance Problems

Treatment for gait and balance problems depends on the cause. Treatments may include medications and physical therapy, or rehabilitation to learn to function or compensate for lack of balance. Affected patients may also learn how to prevent falls. For vertigo-caused balance issues, you may learn how to position your head to regain balance.

Gait and Balance Problem Prognosis

The prognosis of gait and balance problems is dependent on the underlying medical condition.

Falls in older adults, due to gait and balance problems, are a common cause of mortality and morbidity and can lead to injury, loss of independence, and change in lifestyle.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.


Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease (PD) is a progressive neurological disorder. It first presents with problems of movement. Smooth and coordinated muscle movements of the body are made possible by a substance in the brain calle...

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Multiple Sclerosis Overview

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. MS can cause varying symptoms that appear with a wide range of severity, from mild discomfort to complete disability.

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Stroke Overview

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A stroke (a "brain attack") is a medical emergency in which part of the brain is deprived of oxygen. This occurs when an artery that supplies oxygenated blood to the brain becomes damaged and brain cells begin to die.

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Mini Stroke (Transient Ischemic Attack)

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

During a transient ischemic attack (TIA, mini stroke) blood stops flowing to the brain for a short period of time. TIA doesn't kill brain cells like a stroke does. TIA causes symptoms that mimic those of a stroke.

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This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury. Usually it occurs after an impact to your head or after a whiplash-type injury. A concussion can cause many severe symptoms that affect brain function.

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What is Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's disease (AD), the most common cause of dementia, is a progressive brain disorder. Learn about the causes, signs and research being done about AD.

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Muscular Dystrophies

Muscular dystrophies are a group of inherited diseases that damage and weaken your muscles over time. This damage and weakness is due to the lack of a protein.

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Osteomalacia is a weakening of the bones due to problems with bone formation or the bone building process. It is not the same as osteoporosis, which is a weakening of living bone that has already been formed and i...

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Dementia Overview

Dementia may affect memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior. Mental impairment must affect at least two brain functions to be considered dementia.

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Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a disorder of muscle movement and coordination caused by an injury to a child's brain that occurs before birth or during infancy. It affects the part of the brain that controls body movement. Othe...

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Peripheral Vascular Disease

Peripheral vascular disease is a circulation disorder caused by plaque build-up in peripheral arteries. It typically affects the arteries that supply blood to the arms, legs, and organs located below the stomach.

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Hydrocephalus is a condition that occurs when fluid builds up in the skull and causes the brain to swell. The name literally means "water on the brain."

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This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain tissue. It's most often caused by viral infections. In some cases, bacterial infections can cause encephalitis.

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Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

One of the nine types of muscular dystrophy, Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a genetic condition characterized by progressive weakening of voluntary muscles that leads to death. DMD worsens more rapidly than othe...

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Paget's Disease of the Bone

A typical human skeleton consists of 206 bones. Bones are constantly being broken down and rebuilt. If this process is altered, bones can break down and re-form abnormally and in ways that compromise the integrity o...

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Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) is a type of brain disorder caused by a lack of vitamin B1. The syndrome is actually two separate conditions that can occur at the same time. Usually you'll experience symptoms o...

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Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and Mad Cow Disease

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is an infectious disease that causes the brain to degenerate. The hallmark of this brain disease is an inability to think clearly and take care of oneself.

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Pernicious Anemia

Pernicious anemia (PA) is an autoimmune disorder in which the body fails to make enough healthy red blood cells (RBCs), resulting in vitamin B-12 deficiency. Most people experience a burning or sore tongue.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.