What causes balance symptoms?

Balance symptoms are generally related to problems with the vestibular system of the inner ear. They may, however, be related to problems with the nervous, visual, skeletal, or other body systems. Balance symptoms are frequently related to the sense of proprioception, or position in space, which is determined by the joints and muscles as well as the vestibular system.

Vestibular system causes of balance symptoms

Balance symptoms may be caused by problems with the vestibular system of the inner ear including:

  • Complications from ear surgery
  • Ear injury
  • Inner ear defects present at birth
  • Labyrinthitis (inflammation of the inner ear)
  • Mastoiditis
  • Medication side effects (antibiotics, aspirin, quinidine)
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Poor hearing (good hearing is necessary for orientation)

    Muscular and skeletal causes of balance symptoms

    Balance symptoms can also be caused by problems with the muscles or joints including:

    • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease; a severe neuromuscular disease that causes muscle weakness and disability)
    • Arthritis
    • Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (inflammation of peripheral nerves that control muscle movement)
    • Injury to the joints or muscles
    • Muscular dystrophy (inherited disorder that causes a progressive loss of muscle tissue and muscle weakness)

    Nervous system causes of balance symptoms

    Balance symptoms can also be caused by problems with the brain or other parts of the nervous system including:

    • Head injury
    • Infection of the nervous system
    • Nerve tumors such as acoustic neuroma
    • Peripheral neuropathy (disorder that causes dysfunction of nerves that lie outside your brain and spinal cord)
    • Vision disturbances

    Other causes of balance symptoms

    Balance symptoms may also arise from other problems including:

    • Dehydration (loss of body fluids and electrolytes, which can be life threatening when severe and untreated)
    • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
    • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
    • Mild infection such as a common cold (viral respiratory infection)
    • Migraine (spasm of internal auditory artery)
    • Nutritional deficiency such as vitamin B12 deficiency

    Serious or life-threatening causes of balance symptoms

    In some cases, balance symptoms may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:

    • Cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats)
    • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
    • Serious infection such as meningitis (infection or inflammation of the sac around the brain and spinal cord)
    • Stroke
    • Transient ischemic attack (temporary stroke-like symptoms that may be a warning sign of an impending stroke)
    • Trauma, such as bone deformity, burns, eye injuries and other injuries
    • Tumors of the brain, brainstem or inner ear

    Questions for diagnosing the cause of balance symptoms

    To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your balance symptoms including:

    • How long have you had these symptoms?
    • Do you have nausea, vertigo or dizziness?
    • Do you feel faint, disoriented or confused?
    • Do you have balance symptoms even when you are lying down?
    • Have you been consuming enough fluids?
    • Have you had any recent injuries or infections?
    • Have you had changes in your vision?
    • What medications are you taking?

    What are the potential complications of balance symptoms?

    Generally, balance symptoms are mild or go away once the underlying cause of the symptoms has been treated. However, because balance symptoms can be due to serious conditions, such as stroke, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

    • Brain damage
    • Impaired balance and coordination
    • Injury from falling
    • Permanent physical disability
    • Permanent loss of sensation
    • Spread of cancer


    1. Balance disorders. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/balance/balance_disorders.html.
    2. Dizziness. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003093.htm.
    3. Dros J, Maarsingh OR, van der Horst HE, et al. Tests used to evaluate dizziness in primary care. CMAJ 2010; 182:E621.
    4. Collins RD. Differential Diagnosis in Primary Care, 5th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2012
    5. Bope ET, Kellerman RD (Eds.) Conn’s Current Therapy.Philadelphia: Saunders, 2013.

    What are the signs of balance problems?

    Balance symptoms, such as dizziness or vertigo, make you feel unsteady even if you are in a stable position, such as sitting still. Common balance symptoms include dizziness, vertigo, falling, the perception of spinning vision, and unsteadiness. Balance symptoms can also include weakness and confusion.

    Lightheadedness is a feeling that one is going to faint. People with balance symp... Read more about balance symptomsintroduction


    What other symptoms might occur with balance symptoms?

    Balance symptoms may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the vestibular system may also involve other body systems.

    Ear symptoms that may occur along with balance symptoms

    Balance symptoms may accompany other symptoms affecting the ear including:

    Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 23, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

    This Article is Filed Under: Ear, Nose and Throat

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