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What causes poor balance? 20 possible conditions

What Are Balance Problems?

Balance problems cause dizziness and make you feel as though you are spinning or moving when you are actually standing or sitting still. As a result, you may not feel well and this may interfere with your daily life. Balance issues can lead to falls, which may cause broken bones and other injuries.

What Are the Types of Balance Problems?

There are different types of balance problems:

  • Vertigo causes dizziness when you move your head. The symptoms usually occur when you look behind you or look up to reach for an item positioned above your head.
  • Inner ear infection or inflammation can make you feel dizzy and unsteady. The flu or an upper respiratory infection can cause this condition.
  • Meniere’s disease changes the volume of fluid in your ear, causing balance problems, hearing loss, and ringing in the ears. Its cause is unknown.
  • Head injury, strenuous physical activity, ear infections, and atmospheric pressure changes can cause inner ear fluid may leak into the middle ear and cause balance problems.
  • Sea travel can also cause balance problems that may take hours, days, or months to clear up.
  • A tumor, such as an acoustic neuroma is possible.

What Causes Balance Problems?

Causes of balance problems include:

  • infections of the ear
  • inner ear problems
  • head injury
  • poor blood circulation
  • certain medications
  • aging
  • chemical imbalance in the brain
  • low blood pressure
  • high blood pressure
  • arthritis
  • medications

Who Is at Risk for Balance Problems?

You may be at risk for balance problems if you are on medication, suffering from a viral infection, experiencing inner ear problems, or recovering from a head injury. If you are over 65 and have arthritis or high/low blood pressure, your risk for balance problems is higher. Traveling on a boat or ship may also cause temporary balance problems.

What Are the Symptoms of Balance Problems?

The primary symptoms of balance problems are dizziness and the feeling that the room is spinning. It may be difficult to walk without falling. Other symptoms include:

  • blurred vision
  • mental confusion or disorientation
  • nausea and vomiting
  • feelings of depression, fear, or anxiety
  • tiredness
  • difficulty concentrating
  • diarrhea
  • blood pressure and heart rate changes

How Are Balance Problems Diagnosed?

Balance problems are difficult to address because they may be caused by numerous factors. Your doctor may ask about your symptoms and conduct a review of your medical history for related conditions and medications.

In some cases, you may be referred to an ear, nose, and throat specialist who will run the following tests to pinpoint the cause and intensity of the problem:

  • blood tests
  • hearing exams
  • eye movement tests
  • imaging of the brain and head (MRI or CT)
  • posturography (a study of your posture)

How Are Balance Problems Treated?

Balance problems are sometimes corrected by addressing an underlying health condition. They may be treated with medication, surgery, dietary changes, physical therapy and/or exercises you can do at home.


  • Your doctor will review your medications and might replace them or adjust your dosage.
  • If your condition is caused by an ear infection, your doctor might prescribe an antibiotic to cure a bacterial infection.
  • Antinausea medications may be prescribed to reduce nausea symptoms.
  • Your doctor might inject small doses of corticosteroids behind your eardrum to decrease dizziness.


If you have Meniere’s disease, your doctor may recommend surgery on the vestibular system, which makes up your inner ear and affects your balance.

Home Care

To relieve vertigo, your doctor may prescribe activities that can be done at home or with the help of a rehabilitation therapist. A common technique that can be performed at home is the Epley maneuver, which involves sitting up and then quickly resting on your back and turning your head to one side. After a couple of minutes, you sit back up. You are typically shown this technique in the doctor’s office and can repeat it at home to reduce or eliminate dizziness.

If the cause of the balance problem is unknown, your doctor might instruct you on various ways to reduce your risk of injury. You may require assistance when using the restroom or climbing stairs. It is generally best to avoid driving if the condition is severe. Using a cane or handrails at home may be necessary.

Your doctor might also make recommendations to address your overall health. These might include exercising, quitting smoking, limiting caffeine and alcohol, reducing your salt intake, and eating well-balanced meals.

Long-Term Outlook

Balance problems can be temporary or a long-term issue depending on what causes them. If you have an ear infection or have just traveled on a boat, the condition generally clears up in time with treatment. However, if the cause is unknown or the issues are a result of chronic conditions or aging, the symptoms may continue indefinitely.


Most balance problems are difficult to prevent. However, you can address those associated with blood pressure issues. Prevent low blood pressure by drinking more water and avoiding alcohol. Avoid high blood pressure by exercising, limiting your salt intake, and maintaining a healthy weight.

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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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Labyrinthitis is an inner ear disorder in which a nerve that detects head movement becomes inflamed. Symptoms include dizziness, vertigo, and nausea.

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Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a condition in which the spinal column narrows, gradually compressing the spinal cord. If the narrowing is minimal, symptoms won't occur. Too much narrowing can compress the nerves and cause problems.

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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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Middle Ear Infection

A middle ear infection (otitis media), occurs when a virus or bacteria causes the area behind the eardrum to become inflamed. It is most common in children.

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Intracerebral Hemorrhage

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

Intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH) is when blood suddenly bursts into brain tissue, causing damage to the brain. Symptoms usually appear suddenly during ICH.

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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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Cervical Spondylosis

Cervical spondylosis, also known as cervical osteoarthritis or neck arthritis, is an age-related condition that affects the joints and discs in your neck.

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Beriberi is a term used for vitamin B1, or thiamine, deficiency. Vitamin B1 is found in foods like milk, beans, vegetables, meat, and whole grains.

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Brain Tumor

A brain tumor is a collection or mass of abnormal cells in your brain. A brain tumor can be cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign).

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Post Concussion Syndrome

Post-concussion syndrome, or post-concussive syndrome (PCS), refers to the lingering symptoms following a concussion or a mild traumatic brain injury. Symptoms vary but include headache, dizziness, and depression.

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Vertebrobasilar Circulatory Disorders

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

Vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders are a group of diseases in which not enough blood is supplied to the back of the brain. Symptoms depend on the cause, but may include vision and sleep problems, dizziness, and more.

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Skull Fractures

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

A skull fracture is any break in the cranial bone, or the skull. It can result in bleeding, bruising, pain, and swelling. Less severe symptoms include headache, nausea, confusion, and blurred vision.

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Acute Mountain Sickness

Acute mountain sickness (altitude sickness or high altitude pulmonary edema) occurs in high altitudes, especially when exercising. A lack of oxygen can give the skin and lips a blue tinge.

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Guillain-Barre Syndrome

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

Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare but serious autoimmune disorder. An infectious disease, like the stomach flu or a lung infection, usually triggers it.

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Neurofibromatosis 2 (NF2)

Type 2 Neurofibromatosis is a genetic disorder that causes noncancerous tumors to grow on the cranial and spinal nerves.

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Neuroblastoma is a rare cancer that develops in tissues of the sympathetic nervous system (the system that carries brain signals to the body). Early symptoms of the cancer can include fever, diarrhea, and others.

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Legionnaires' Disease

Legionnaires' disease is a serious type of lung infection, or pneumonia, caused by bacteria. Fever, chills, cough, and head and muscle aches are common symptoms.

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Kuru is an extremely rare and fatal nervous system disease. The disease reached its peak during the 1950s and 1960s among the Fore people in the highlands of New Guinea. The Fore people contracted the disease b...

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Brain Cancer

Brain cancer is an overgrowth of cells in the brain that form masses called tumors. Cancerous (malignant) brain tumors tend to grow very quickly, disrupting body functions. They can be life threatening. However, brai...

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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.