More than 90 million Americans, age 17 and older, have experienced a dizziness or balance problem, according to the National Institutes for Health. About nine million people have been severely disabled by frequent feelings of spinning or a whirling sensation, imbalance, difficulty focusing their eyes, and other similar symptoms, including severe nausea or vomiting.
Approximately 50 percent of the population will suffer from equilibrium disorders at some point in their lives. These can be caused by viral or bacterial infections in the ear, head trauma, allergies, migraine, blood circulation disorders, osteoarthritis, cardiac issues, stress and more. Additionally, many people experience problems with their sense of balance as they get older.
While many patients seek treatment from physicians for these disorders, expert treatment may come from a physical therapist who specializes in treating these conditions through vestibular rehabilitation programs. Only two percent of physical therapists in the United States have been certified in vestibular rehabilitation. A vestibular disorder is an inner ear disorder that can cause symptoms of dizziness, vertigo, headaches, nausea and a loss of balance. There are different types of vestibular disorders, including BPPV (Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo), peripheral or central vestibulopathy, vestibular migraine, Meniere’s Disease and labrynthitis. Each is caused by different reasons and has individual treatment plans.
Dr. Michele Kehrer PT, DPT, ATC, of Chicago is one of the few specialists working with neurological dizziness and balance disorders today. An athlete herself, she was first drawn to balance and dizziness issues while working in sports rehabilitation. Never one to shy away from a challenge, she worked with neurology specialists to develop mew patient protocols – successes that were later acknowledged by the United States government when she was asked to assist in research conducted by NASA and the Department of Defense.
“Many of my patients complain of feeling nauseous, like they are falling, or as if they’re on a spinning bed. Their symptoms are so severe they are forced to make drastic changes in their lives,” explains Dr. Kehrer. “Most of these problems are caused by a disturbance in the vestibular system, which is located in the inner ear. Through comprehensive testing we are able to pinpoint the cause of the symptoms and develop an effective treatment plan.”
In many cases the people who suffer from dizziness and balance problems are prescribed medication and discharged from care. This medication increases risk of falling and can be addictive. It also suppresses vestibular function, essentially worsening the problem that it is prescribed to treat. The medication is fine when prescribed correctly and utilized in conjunction with physical therapy. Unfortunately, says Dr. Kehrer, there are very few practitioners that truly understand dizziness and balance disorders, and even fewer that are correctly treating it.
“The treatment offered at my center is especially important now due to the increased number of Americans living longer,” said Dr. Kehrer. “Sixty-five percent of individuals over the age of 60 experience dizziness or loss of balance, the result of generalized functional degradation.”
With the help of new technology and specialized equipment, these treatment plans work. Dr. Kehrer says more than 90% of her patients experience a marked decrease in their symptoms within four to eight weeks.
Resources for more information:
Lifestyle Physical Therapy and Balance Center: www.balancechicago.com
Vestibular Disorders Association: www.vestibular.org
Meniere’s Disease Information Center: http://www.menieresinfo.com/
Balance Disorders Information: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/balance/balance_disorders.asp
Chronic Dizziness: http://www.balancechicago.com/Chronic_Dizziness.pdf
Dizziness in the Elderly: http://www.lef.org/news/LefDailyNews.htm?NewsID=8304&Section=Disease
About the author: Pat Elliott is a journalist and blogger who has written about health issues for more than 20 years. She is also a cancer survivor who coaches people on how to manage their transition and take control of their new future.