Balance Problems

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. Here are common symtoms experienced by people with a balance disorder.


If you have a balance disorder, you may stagger when you try to walk, or teeter or fall when you try to stand up. You might experience other symptoms such as:

  • dizziness or vertigo (a spinning sensation)
  • falling or feeling as if you are going to fall
  • lightheadedness, faintness, or a floating sensation
  • blurred vision
  • confusion or disorientation.

Other symptoms might include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, changes in heart rate and blood pressure, and fear, anxiety, or panic. Symptoms may come and go over short time periods or last for a long time, and can lead to fatigue and depression.

Diagnosis Can Be Difficult

Balance disorders can be difficult to diagnose. Sometimes they are a sign of other health problems, such as those affecting the brain, the heart, or circulation of the blood. People may also find it hard to describe their symptoms to the doctor.

Questions to Ask Yourself

You can help identify a balance problem by asking yourself some key questions. 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, even only for brief periods of time?
  • 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?
  • If it feels like the room is spinning around you, which ways does it appear to turn?
  • 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?

See a video about describing symptoms and health concerns during a doctor visit.

Seeing a Specialist

Your doctor may refer you to an otolaryngologist. This is a doctor 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, as well as an audiologist (a person who specializes in assessing hearing and balance disorders), may also perform tests to determine the cause and extent of the problem.

Learn what's involved in visiting a medical specialist.