Balance Problems


The most common symptoms of balance problems in older adults are:

  • Unsteadiness. A feeling of imbalance, disorientation, and sometimes a loss of sense of time, or place
  • Vertigo or Dizziness. A sensation that you or everything else is spinning or moving
  • Lightheadedness or near-fainting” (presyncope).  A feeling of weakness or that a person might lose consciousness. If this feeling is new or severe, it needs medical attention right away.

A person may have different balance problems and symptoms depending on the cause. Evaluating these symptoms helps the healthcare provider find the cause of the balance problem. Some of the possible conditions and symptoms that can cause balance problems include the following.

Neurological problems

  • Neuropathy (weakness, numbness, or pain from nerve damage)
  • Weakness after having a stroke
  • Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) or mini-strokes”
  • Parkinsons disease, which is a brain disease that can cause balance problems, among other symptoms

Musculoskeletal problems

  • Physical deconditioning (being out of shape”)
  • Degenerative joint disease
  • Rheumatological conditions

Inner ear problems

Benign Positional Paroxysmal Vertigo (BPPV) has the following signs:

  • Vertigo, which lasts for a few seconds to minutes
  • Vertigo brought on by changing head position
  • A positive Dix-Hallpike test, which tests for vertigo caused by certain head movements. 

Labyrinthitis is suspected if you have:

  • Vertigo that starts suddenly and is not related to head or body position
  • Vertigo that is associated with nausea and vomiting
  • Vertigo that continues for days
  • Side-to-side eye movements which stop when eyes are fixed on an object

Meniere’s disease is identified by the presence of:

  • Two spontaneous episodes of vertigo, each lasting at least 20 minutes and continuing for hours in many cases
  • Confirmed hearing loss
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or a feeling of fullness inside one ear

Sudden low blood pressure (orthostatic hypotension) 

  • A drop in blood pressure when sitting up or standing up
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness lasting from a few seconds to minutes as the main symptom
  • The dizziness and light-headedness appear within one to three minutes after sitting up or standing up
  • Blurred vision, reduced hearing, head or neck pain, sweating
See your healthcare provider if you have new, strong, or continuing feelings of loss of balance, lightheadedness, faintness, dizziness.  You should also tell them if you feel shakiness, weakness, instability, or general physical insecurity. These feelings may be related to one or more treatable conditions.
See a healthcare professional or call 911 right away if you have sudden balance problems or dizziness or vertigo along with any of the following:
  • a head injury
  • a severe or unusual headache
  • fever higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • a stiff neck
  • blurred vision
  • sudden hearing loss
  • speech difficulties
  • leg or arm weakness or numbness
  • a fall
  • trouble walking
  • chest pain
  • unusually fast or slow heart rate
  • loss of consciousness



Last Updated January 2023

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