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Loss of balance


How we keep our balance

Ever since we first started to walk as a young child, keeping upright and balanced has been second nature – until things go wrong!

Loss of balance or dizziness is frequently described as a feeling you are about to fall or pass out, that you are spinning, lightheaded, giddy or tilting when trying to walk straight.

Maintaining our balance and position in our environment is a complex interplay of the cerebellum part of the brain receiving and analysing signals from:

  • our eyes [vision] which show us where we are in our surroundings
  • our inner ear, [vestibular] where the fluid-filled semicircular canals and labyrinth detect movement and balance. Tiny fine hairs on the inside lining of the labyrinth send messages to the brain via the vestibular nerve. Also in the inner ear is the cochlea, which determines hearing.
  • our sensory nerves [proprioception ] which detect movement, touch and pressure from muscles, skin and joints which record body movements and positions.
  • Hearing, which orientates us to sound sources and sound reflecting surfaces.

When one or more of these inputs are interrupted or corrupted, loss of balance occurs. Over time the brain may learn to reinterpret signals and regain stable balance.



Click here to read How does the balance system work?


Vestibular System & Balance

The inner ear is concerned with balance and hearing.

Hearing comes through the Cochlea.

Each ear has three semicircular canals [one horizontal, two vertical] which detect movement and two otoliths, which monitor acceleration. Together they detect movement in all three directions – up/down, sideways and acceleration. The vestibular nerve transmits the signals to the brain.

Vestibular vertigo symptoms [spinning and nausea] essentially occur when there is damage or malfunctioning in the inner ear and/or vestibular nerve. It is often difficult to pinpoint the precise site or cause of vertigo dizziness.


Experiencing Dizziness, loss of balance, vertigo

People can experience a “once off” episode of dizziness & loss of balance or these may be ongoing and recurring. There are more than 60 different disorders that can cause dizziness involving the brain, inner ear, heart, blood vessels, lungs and other organs. It is important to keep a record of episodes of loss of balance, as this can help in diagnosis.

Generally you will experience dizziness, loss of balance and vertigo in one or more of three ways.

1. Feeling Faint [Presyncope]

In general terms, feeling faint or once-off unsteady or dizzy episodes are due to:

  • low blood pressure when moving from lying down to sitting up,
  • heart issues,
  • anxiety
  • some medications.

In all cases you should consult your doctor.


2. Spinning or Whirling.

Experiencing dizziness with a spinning sensation is called vertigo. It feels as if the room or surroundings are spinning around you and you feel very unsteady. Because of the sense of motion, you may experience motion sickness and vomit. The spinning is eased by lying down and becomes worse when you try and sit up or move.

Vertigo is a symptom [not a cause] of an underlying problem in one or both inner ears. It is due to confused “balance” messages being sent to the brain as a result of damage to or inflammation of either the labyrinth or vestibular nerve. The good news is that the brain can learn to redecipher these messages and the symptoms can subside after a time.


3. Imbalance [disequilibrium]

Feeling likely to fall and being unsteady on your feet without spinning sensations is a common complaint, especially with older people. Unlike vertigo, it is not accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Underlying causes can be general frailty, joint & muscle weakness, brain and nerve disorders, alcohol and drugs and ear problems. Your local doctor should be consulted.

Whirled Foundation’s focus is on assisting people with vertigo and minimising associated lifestyle impacts.


Helpful Tips

Remember your symptoms are not necessarily a predictor of the underlying cause of your loss of balance. Many medical conditions manifest themselves in similar symptoms.

It is important you seek professional medical advice and diagnosis.

Our 6 Step Action Plan can assist in managing your personal “Whirled” journey.

Join Us

Whirled Foundation membership has great benefits and puts you in touch with others living with vestibular disorders around Australia and the world.

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