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  • Survey: 1 in 20 Children Have Problems with Balance or Dizziness

    In what they describe as the first-ever study among children in the US, authors of an epidemiology review estimate that 3.3 million children—about 1 in 20—suffer from some kind of dizziness or balance problem, with 600,000 experiencing symptoms that result in "moderate" or "very big" problems.

    The results are based on a probability sample of 10,954 children aged 3-17 years, by way of survey responses supplied by parents or caregivers. Respondents answered questions about whether, during the past 12 months, their children were bothered by vertigo, poor balance, poor coordination, frequent falls, light-headedness, or any other kind of dizziness or balance problems. Responses were then cross-referenced with other demographic and health information to create a picture of prevalence and potential risk factors. The full report is published in The Journal of Pediatrics (abstract only available for free).

    Among the findings:

    • Overall prevalence for dizziness and balance problems was 5.3% and increased with age, from 4.1% at 3-5 years to 7.5% for ages 15-17. Girls had a 5.7% prevalence, compared with boys' prevalence of 5.0%.
    • "Poor coordination" was the most often-reported symptom (46%), followed by light-headedness (35.1%), poor balance (30.9%), vertigo (29%), frequent falls (25%), and "other" (8.5%). Children were more likely to have 2 or more symptoms than a single symptom.
    • Among the children with balance and dizziness problems, 32.8% had received a diagnosis, a rate that increased to 59.6% for children with moderate to very big problems. Overall rates for being seen by a health care professional in the past year were 36%, and 71.6% among children who had moderate to very big problems.
    • Identified risk factors include being aged 12-17, household education less than high school, family income below the poverty level, low and very low birth weight, first steps without support at 15 months or later, and various developmental or illness conditions.
    • The most strongly associated risk factors, in order, were problems that limited a child's ability to crawl, walk, run, or play; frequent headaches/migraines; "other" developmental delays; seizures during the past 12 months; stuttering/stammering; hearing difficulty; and anemia during the past 12 months.
    • Low and very low birth weight was "significantly associated" with some, but not all, dizziness and balance symptoms—specifically, poor balance, poor coordination, and frequent falls, but not with vertigo or light-headedness. "This suggests that birth weight is more strongly associated with motor problems," authors write.
    • Prevalence of dizziness and balance problems among children with difficulty hearing was 20.9%. For children with vision problems (including those addressed by corrective lenses), prevalence was 14.4%.
    • The results are drawn from a survey funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders in 2012, and will be used as baseline data in the National Institutes of Health Healthy People 2020 initiative.

    Authors hope that the results will help with what they describe as a "poorly understood" health problem for a significant number of children in the US, and assert that the ways parents responded to the survey shed much light on the work that needs to be done.

    "Among the one-third of children in this study whose parents/caregivers reported they had been given a diagnosis, 49% replied that the dizziness and balance problems were due to 'other' unspecified causes," authors write. "This finding is not surprising. Almost 90% of children with balance disorders are categorized as 'unspecified dizziness,' indicating that the diagnostic accuracy and methods of physicians treating children with balance problems should be improved."

    Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.


    • I was curious if daily activity was part of the investigation? Do these children sit and watch TV, play video games or do they participate in sports and activities that feed into their balance and proprioception centers?

      Posted by Darlene on 2/4/2016 7:47 AM

    • I question the connection to lack of physical activities in children, including gym being taken out of schools, and the prevalence of sedentary activities, such as video games, cell phone activity, etc. If there is poverty in the home, there could be less team sport/exercise/dance class promotion in the home.

      Posted by Karen Hallay on 2/4/2016 9:07 AM

    • I wonder how many of the children are diabetic/pre-diabetic and have difficulty regulating their blood glucose levels.

      Posted by Megan Thorburn on 2/4/2016 4:02 PM

    • I'm looking for any courses or resources regarding evaluation and treatment of vestibular dysfunction in children, specifically children with autism. Thank you

      Posted by Nancy Gilman-Koiles PT on 2/4/2016 7:32 PM

    • Nancy-- I attended a fantastic course on pediatric balance and vestibular dysfunction this past year that was held by the Boston Children's Hospital. They have a Balance Center at their Waltham location and held a 2 day course that was well organized and highly clinically relevant. I'd suggest looking into it on the Boston Children's Hospital Continuing Education Website-- here's the info on their program http://www.childrenshospital.org/centers-and-services/balance-and-vestibular-program best of luck!

      Posted by Amy Smith, PT DPT on 2/8/2016 12:10 PM

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