What causes poor balance? 18 possible conditions
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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.
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.
Causes of balance problems include:
- infections of the ear
- inner ear problems
- head injury
- poor blood circulation
- certain medications
- chemical imbalance in the brain
- low blood pressure
- high blood pressure
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.
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
- difficulty concentrating
- blood pressure and heart rate changes
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)
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.
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.
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.
- Balance Disorders. (n.d.). National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders [NIDCD]. Retrieved April 6, 2012, from http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/balance/pages/balance_disorders.aspx
- Balance Problems. (n.d.). MedlinePlus. Retrieved April 6, 2012, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/balanceproblems.html
- Balance Problems. (n.d.). NIHSeniorHealth. Retrieved April 6, 2012, from http://nihseniorhealth.gov/balanceproblems/faq/faq9.html
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