What are the Different Types of Balance Problems?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

There are a number of balance problems that can affect people of all ages. They are broadly broken into causes related to the ears or to the brain, although other medical issues can also be responsible. People with vision impairment, including blindness, can also experience balance problems because their eyes are not providing feedback to the vestibular system, which the body uses to stay in balance. There are treatments available for some disorders involving balance and it is advisable to see a physician if people notice changes in their ability to balance and walk comfortably.

Diseases that attack the cerebellum may lead to balance problems.
Diseases that attack the cerebellum may lead to balance problems.

Some balance problems are lumped under the category of vertigo, where people have the sensation that they are spinning or in motion. Examples of conditions in this category are benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), Meniere's Disease, labyrinthine infections of the ear, vestibular migraine, and acoustic neuroma. Vertigo can cause people to fall, and it may also lead to gait abnormalities, such as a rolling gait, to compensate for the dizzy feeling.

Ear problems can cause balance disorders.
Ear problems can cause balance disorders.

Other balance problems are related to presyncope, a medical term for “feeling faint.” People with presyncope most commonly have a problem with blood pressure, which causes them to feel faint and unsteady. Disequilibrium, balance disorders characterized by lack of balance and the inability to control the body to stay in balance, can be caused by joint and muscle disorders, inner ear problems, nerve damage such as that seen with multiple sclerosis, and some medications.

Degenerative muscle disorders may cause an individual to have balance problems.
Degenerative muscle disorders may cause an individual to have balance problems.

Balance problems can also involve feeling lightheaded. People with anxiety disorders sometimes experience balance problems, and hyperventilation can also lead to a lightheaded feeling because the brain is not getting enough oxygen. Brain tumors and other degenerative diseases that attack areas of the brain like the cerebellum can also lead to balance disorders, as people may have trouble controlling their gait or standing upright.

Balance is closely related to coordination, and a balance disorder may lead to falls and other injuries.
Balance is closely related to coordination, and a balance disorder may lead to falls and other injuries.

When a balance disorder is identified, a series of diagnostic tests can be used to learn more about why a patient is experiencing problems. These tests can include tilt table tests, stress tests, bloodwork, medical imaging studies of the brain, examination of the ears, and neurological exams. It can be helpful to provide the doctors with as much background information as possible about the patient's history, the onset of the balance problems, and any family history of balance disorders. This information will be considered during the workup of the patient to come up with a list of possible causes and proposed treatments.

Vestibular migraines often cause balance problems.
Vestibular migraines often cause balance problems.
When a patient is experience balance problems, their doctor may examine their ears.
When a patient is experience balance problems, their doctor may examine their ears.
An untreated ear infection may cause balance problems.
An untreated ear infection may cause balance problems.
Most cases of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) strike people who are 55 and older.
Most cases of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) strike people who are 55 and older.
A person with a balance disorder may also have a thwarted sence of proprioception, the sensation of knowing where the body is located in space.
A person with a balance disorder may also have a thwarted sence of proprioception, the sensation of knowing where the body is located in space.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

Bhutan

@Subway11 - I know that people with multiple sclerosis also have problems with keeping their balance and eventually many people with this disorder become immobile.

This is because the nerves become damaged and are unable to send messages from the brain to other parts of the body. They say that some of the symptoms for this disease include blurred vision, weakness on one part of the body, dizziness, tremors, and having no energy to do anything. I read that women are twice as likely to develop this condition and it usually is diagnosed in people under 40.

subway11

I just wanted to say that my mother in law suffers from severe bouts of vertigo. She is so sensitive that when she rides in a car, she has to sit in the front seat otherwise she gets sick. She told me that she went on a cruise and had to be flown off the ship at one of the stops because she was too sick to remain on the cruise.

I really feel bad for her because traveling is so much fun and she really can’t do much of it without getting sick. When her vertigo symptoms flare up she usually gets really bad migraines and has to go to the doctor to get injections that allow her treat the condition.

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