Balance Problems

Overview

What are balance problems?

Balance problems are the inability to stay upright and move confidently. They occur when you are unable to control your body’s position or you feel unsteady.

The feeling can happen when you are moving or being still. They often involve dizziness or vertigo (a spinning or falling sensation). Some people also experience blurred vision and disorientation.

Balance problems are a common symptom of many different medical conditions. Many of these disorders do not require medical treatment. But if you have balance problems, you should see a doctor to rule out serious health problems such as a stroke or tumor.

Possible Causes

What are the possible causes of balance problems?

Problems in the inner ear may cause balance problems. Disruptions to the systems in the body that help maintain balance can also cause them.

Balance problems are more common as people get older because they have more health problems in general and as we age our balance system changes. But it is important to see a doctor if you experience this symptom. In rare cases, serious conditions including a tumor or stroke may lead to this symptom.

Common causes of balance problems include:

Care and Treatment

How are balance problems diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose balance problems with a physical exam. They will ask about your symptoms and medical history. Tests doctors use to identify the cause of balance problems include:

  • Balance test: A doctor asks you to move your head and body in specific ways to identify balance disorders.
  • Hearing and ear tests: Measuring balance mechanisms and hearing ability helps doctors identify problems in the ears.
  • Imaging: An MRI or CT scan enables doctors to see any issues in the ears or brain.

How are balance problems managed or treated?

Doctors usually manage balance problems by treating the condition or disorder causing them. Common treatments for balance problems include:

  • Healthy eating and exercise to maintain normal blood pressure
  • Physical therapy (exercises to strengthen muscles to help restore balance)
  • Positioning procedures to move particles in the ear
  • Surgery to remove a tumor
  • Stopping or changing medications that cause dizziness or balance problems

When to Call the Doctor

When should I call the doctor about balance problems?

Contact your doctor if you have balance problems that:

  • Are accompanied by headache or neck pain
  • Cause fainting or falling
  • Include vomiting or difficulty walking
  • Last more than an hour

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/03/2018.

References

  • Salzman B. Gait and Balance Disorders in Older Adults. (https://www.aafp.org/afp/2010/0701/p61.html) Am Fam Physician. 2010 Jul 1;82(1):61-68. Accessed 12/4/2018.
  • Brain and Spine Foundation. Dizziness and balance problems. (https://www.brainandspine.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/BSF_Dizziness-and-balance-A5-booklet.pdf) Accessed 12/4/2018.
  • Merck Manuals. Dizziness and Vertigo. (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/ear,-nose,-and-throat-disorders/symptoms-of-ear-disorders/dizziness-and-vertigo) Accessed 12/4/2018.
  • National Institute on Aging. Balance Problems and Disorders. (https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/balance-problems-and-disorders) Accessed 12/4/2018.

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