Symptoms and Diagnosis
Some people may have a balance problem without realizing it. Others might think they have a problem, but are too embarrassed to tell their doctor, friends, or family. You can help identify a possible balance problem by asking yourself some key questions and, if necessary, having your balance checked by a doctor.
Balance disorders can be difficult to diagnose because patients sometimes find it hard to describe their symptoms to a doctor. Patients may use words such as "dizzy," "woozy," or "lightheaded" to describe what they are feeling. For some people, the feeling can be brief, while for others, it can last a long time, disrupting their daily lives.
Finding the Correct Diagnosis
Balance disorders are serious. Sometimes they are a sign of other health problems, such as those affecting the brain, the heart, or circulation of the blood. They are also a common cause of falls and fall-related injuries in older people. For these reasons, it is important to have a balance disorder diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.
Questions to Ask Yourself
If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, you should discuss the symptom with your doctor.
- Do I feel unsteady?
- Do I feel as if the room is spinning around me?
- Do I feel as if I'm moving when I know I'm standing or sitting still?
- Do I lose my balance and fall?
- Do I feel as if I'm falling?
- Do I feel lightheaded, or as if I might faint?
- Does my vision become blurred?
- Do I ever feel disoriented, losing my sense of time, place, or identity?
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
If you think that you have a balance disorder, you should schedule an appointment with your family doctor. You can help your doctor make a diagnosis by writing down key information about your dizziness or balance problem beforehand and giving the information to your doctor during the visit. Tell your doctor as much as you can.
Write down answers to these questions for your doctor:
- How would you describe your dizziness or balance problem?
- How often do you have dizziness or balance problems?
- Have you ever fallen?
- If so, when did you fall, where did you fall, and how often have you fallen?
- What medications do you take? Remember to include all over-the-counter medications, including aspirin, antihistamines, and sleep aids.
- What is the name of the medication?
- How much do you take each day?
- What times of the day do you take the medication?
- What is the health condition for which you take the medication?
Seeing a Specialist
Your doctor may refer you to an otolaryngologist. This is a doctor and surgeon with special training in problems of the ear, nose, throat, head, and neck.
The otolaryngologist may ask you for your medical history and perform a physical examination to help figure out the possible causes of the balance disorder. He or she may also perform tests to determine the cause and extent of the problem.