“More than 4 in 10 Americans will experience an episode of dizziness sometime during their lives that’s significant enough to send them to a doctor,” according to the August, 2012 issue of NIH News in Health, a monthly newsletter published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“Most people feel dizzy now and then. But if that feeling persists or interferes with your daily life, it could be a sign of a balance disorder,” the NIH newsletter states.
As people age they tend to experience more of the several underlying conditions that can lead to dizziness and balance disorders, the NIH notes.
Understanding Balance Disorders
“Balance is a multisystem function,” NIH hearing and balance expert Dr. Daniel Sklare explains in the August NIH newsletter. “It begins with a series of signals within the tiny balance organs of the inner ear. These organs work with your brain’s visual system to give you a sense of your body’s position. They also keep objects from blurring when your head moves. Sense receptors in skin, joints and muscles also send balance-related signals to the brain. The brain receives and coordinates information from all these different body systems. Balance disorders can arise when any of these signals malfunction.”
“Because balance is so complex, it can be hard to figure out the underlying cause of certain problems,” the NIH newsletter states. “Some balance disorders can begin suddenly. They might arise from an ear infection, a head injury or certain medications. Low blood pressure can lead to dizziness when you stand up quickly. Disorders related to vision, muscles, bones or joints can also contribute to balance problems.”
“As America gets older, many people with imbalance have a collection of these problems,” says Dr. Gordon Hughes, NIH clinical trials director for hearing and balance. “They might have aging of the ear, aging of vision, cataracts, muscle weakness from losing some muscle mass or arthritis in the hips, plus other problems like diabetes.”
Researchers have identified more than a dozen different balance disorders, according to the new NIH newsletter. Among those mentioned are:
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) — The most common balance disorder, BPPV is experienced as a sudden burst of vertigo that can arise with an abrupt change in head position, such as when you bend over to tie your shoes. According to NIH, this condition is often harmless and may result from a head injury or simply from getting older.
- Ménière’s disease — This condition is experienced as attacks of “intense vertigo, hearing loss, nausea, tinnitus (a ringing or buzzing in the ear) and a feeling of fullness in the ear,” according to the NIH. “Some affected people have vertigo so extreme that they lose their balance and fall. These episodes are called ‘drop attacks’,” the NIH explains. “An attack of Ménière’s symptoms, while not life-threatening, can feel completely overwhelming,” the NIH newsletter reports.
Ménière’s disease is thought to arise because of a change in fluid volume within the inner ear, but its underlying cause remains unknown, according to the NIH.
“Scientists estimate that 6 in 10 people [with Ménière’s disease] either get better on their own or can control their vertigo with diet, drugs or devices. In severe cases, surgical therapies can end the dizziness but might affect hearing,” the NIH states.
More information about both of these conditions is contained in the August, 2012 issue of NIH News in Health, a monthly newsletter published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
More Resources on Dizziness and Balance Disorders
For more information on dizziness and balance disorders, see:
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — resource page on Balance Disorders.
NIH SeniorHealth – About Balance Problems.
MedlinePlus resource page on Dizziness and Vertigo – a consumer health information service of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
Mayo Clinic – resource page on Balance Problems and Dizziness.
Cleveland Clinic – resource pages on Vestibular & Balance Disorders.
Cleveland Clinic – resource page on Dizziness.
Medicinenet.com – Vertigo.
WebMD – Video on Balance Basics.
WebMD – Dizziness Directory.
- News on Falls/ Fractures/ Mobility Loss;
- Symptoms & Diagnosis;
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