Disequilibrium, dizziness, and vertigo are all common symptoms that patients seek care from their doctors for. These conditions can stem from a peripheral vestibular disorder (a dysfunction of the organs that control balance in the inner ear) or a central vestibular disorder (a dysfunction of one or more components of the central nervous system that process spatial information and process balance). It is true that these three symptoms can be linked by a common cause; however, they do have different meanings. Describing them to your doctor accurately can mean the difference between getting the proper help or continuing to suffer. Here is what each one means:
- Disequilibrium: This simply means feeling unsteady or off balance, which may be accompanied by spatial disorientation.
- Dizziness: This is the sensation of lightheadedness, unsteadiness, or faintness.
- Vertigo: This is a rotational or spinning sensation that feels like movement when there is no movement of either yourself of the things in your environment.
Almost everyone has had some type of spatial disorientation at one point or another in their life. Maybe you were watching a 3D movie in the theater and momentarily felt like you were moving or falling as the images rushed by you. Vestibular dysfunction will last for a few seconds or a few days and may be most noticeable when you change the position of your head. Dizziness may be a sign of a vestibular disorder in addition to a variety of metabolic, visual, neurological, psychological, and cardiovascular problems. A combination of problems may exist such as a visual defect along with a degenerative vestibular disorder. It can be a drawn-out and exasperating process to try to find the right diagnosis and proper help for dizziness.
Dizziness Caused by Vestibular Disorders
In order for the body to maintain balance, it receives sensory information from three different systems:
- Proprioception — touch sensors in the feet, body, and spine
- Vestibular system — inner ear
The signals sent from these three systems go through the brainstem, are processed, and then feedback messages are sent. One is sent to the eyes to help maintain steady vision, and one is sent to the muscles to help maintain posture and balance.
If your vestibular system is healthy and working properly, it will send the most reliable information to the brain about spatial orientation. A few mixed signals from proprioception or vision can be tolerated. For example, sitting in a parked car and looking at the car next to you backing up may give you the feeling that you are actually moving. The brain can decipher this. However, when it comes to abnormalities of the vestibular system, a problem often arises.
The brain must decide which one of the signals to follow as both are vying for equal attention, much like a judge has to decide which side is right in a court case. The vestibular system has to serve as the tiebreaker between the two types of sensory information. If the vestibular system malfunctions, it cannot resolve these moments of conflict, and the end result is disequilibrium, vertigo, or dizziness.
What Causes Vestibular Problems?
Most commonly, a vestibular problem can be linked back to a head injury, aging, or a virus. Some other illnesses and genetic factors can play a role as well. Here are some causes:
- Autoimmune inner ear disease: This happens when the cells of the body are harmed when the immune system malfunctions and the ear becomes affected. This may include Cogan’s syndrome, systemic lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, Wegner’s granulomatosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
- An acoustic neuroma: A benign growth on the vestibulocochlear nerve
- Cholesteatoma: A skin growth of the middle ear behind the eardrum
- BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo): Resulting from loose debris that collects in a certain part of the inner ear, this is often due to head injury or the natural aging process.
- An enlarged vestibular aqueduct: Containing the fluid-filled endolymphatic duct that connects to the endolymphatic sac, the function is impaired when the aqueduct is enlarged.
- Labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis: Inflammation caused by a viral infection resulting in damage to hearing and vestibular function or to vestibular function only.
- Meniere’s disease: An abnormality in the fluid buildup and pressure changes within the ear.
- Migraine associated vertigo: Head pain, dizziness, motion intolerance, spontaneous vertigo, sensitivity to light and sound, tinnitus, imbalance, and spatial disorientation all accompany this condition.
Finding Help for Disequilibrium
One of the reasons listed above for the onset of disequilibrium or other balance disorders can be connected to a misalignment in the bones of the upper cervical spine, particularly the C1 and C2 vertebrae. These bones are susceptible to misaligning because of their unique shape and flexibility. They are the bones that allow the head to move in many directions. This also makes them misalign easily due to a minor blow to the head, a sporting injury, or a simple trip and fall. When they misalign, they begin to put pressure on the brainstem and lead to it sending improper signals to the brain about the location of the body in its environment. This leads to disequilibrium and other problems with balance.
Here at Upper Cervical Chiropractic of Sacramento in Sacramento, California, we use a very gentle method that helps the bones of the neck to move back into proper alignment. We do not have to resort to popping or cracking the spine to get results. Many patients notice that their disequilibrium begins to go away shortly after having a few adjustments.
To schedule a complimentary consultation with Dr. Gottlieb call 916-965-7155 or just click the button below.
if you are outside of the local area you can find an Upper Cervical Doctor near you at www.uppercervicalawareness.com.