Diabetes Care

Staying on balance when you have diabetes

Feeling lightheaded and dizzy is never fun, especially when it affects your balance. Add diabetes to the mix and there could be some diabetes-related complications that are contributing to your balance and dizziness issues. Here is some information on the connection between diabetes and balance, as well as diabetes and dizziness. Plus, find out how to improve your balance so you can help prevent falls.

The connection between dizziness and balance

Your brain uses all the messages it receives from your eyes, ears, muscles, joints and other body parts to keep you balanced. When there is an inner ear problem, for example, and these messages aren’t being processed properly, you can experience dizziness that will affect your balance.

When you’re dizzy, you can feel light-headed, disoriented, nauseous and as if the room is spinning. This form of dizziness is also referred to as vertigo.

If you’re experiencing dizziness and/or balance issues, it’s important to determine if there are underlying and treatable conditions that are contributing to the problem. A diabetes-related complication may, in fact, be the culprit.

What is the connection between diabetes and balance?

Impaired balance is one of the most commonly identified risk factors associated with falls in older adults with type 2 diabetes. There are several diabetes-related complications that can impact balance and contribute to falls. These include:

  • nerve damage or peripheral neuropathy, which can result in the loss of sensation in the feet/legs and can impact walking
  • hypoglycemia or low blood sugar, which can trigger a loss of balance
  • retinopathy (or damaged blood vessels in the eyes) as well as cataracts and glaucoma, which can lead to difficulty in seeing objects obstructing your path

With diabetes, you also have a higher risk of bone issues that can affect balance and mobility (e.g., osteoporosis, hip fractures etc.) compared to those without the disease.

Read more about diabetes and bone health here.

What is the connection between diabetes and dizziness?

Dizziness can be a symptom of a diabetes-related issue as well. Some common concerns include:

  • low (hypoglycemia) or high (hyperglycemia) blood sugar levels
  • some diabetes medication (e.g., SLGT2 inhibitors or sulfonylureas)
  • dehydration, brought on by hyperglycemia
  • low blood pressure that can happen in diabetes when you suddenly stand up from sitting or lying down
  • some people may experience dizziness from their blood pressure medication and may require an adjustment in the dose

Be sure to seek medical help immediately if you’re experiencing continued dizziness or balance issues, especially if you’re falling or having trouble walking.

What are some ways to improve balance and dizziness?

There are many ways to improve your balance and reduce dizziness when you have diabetes. Here are some things to do in the short-term to improve dizziness and balance:

  • Take your time when moving from a lying down position to sitting and standing
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
  • Avoid stimulants such as alcohol and coffee that can make dizziness worse
  • When feeling unsteady, focus on a fixed (non-moving) object in your vision
  • When outside, avoid crowds and crowded areas
  • Manage your blood sugar levels to reduce lows and highs
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about your diabetes and/or blood pressure medications and whether they are contributing to the problem

It’s a good idea to include balance training along with physical activity and strength training in your regular activity. Here are some balance exercises you can try.

Keeping active through other exercises such as pool aerobics or gentle yoga and pilates is another good way to improve balance.

While diabetes-related complications can affect your balance and cause dizziness, especially as you get older, know that there are things you can do to improve your balance and reduce symptoms. Remember that any activity that keeps you on your feet and moving, such as walking, can help you maintain your balance. And it’s never too late! Research shows that the right exercises can help people who are sedentary to dramatically improve their strength and balance at any age or ability level.

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