What causes dizziness and vomiting?
While dizziness and vomiting might mean there is an underlying medical problem, the cause is often something temporary, such as anxiety or a minor stomach bug.
In this article, learn about a range of possible causes of dizziness and vomiting, as well as when to see a doctor.
Causes of dizziness and vomiting may include anxiety, inner ear issues, and diabetes.
Diagnosing the cause of dizziness and vomiting requires more than just looking at symptoms. Very intense symptoms do not necessarily indicate a serious health problem.
Instead, it is essential to look at risk factors, such as whether a person has recently been exposed to something dangerous, and take other symptoms into account.
Possible causes of vomiting and dizziness include:
1. Anxiety and other mental health issues
Intense anxiety can trigger overwhelming nausea and vomiting. Some people may also feel dizzy, confused, and as if their thoughts are out of control.
This type of anxiety often comes before a specific event, such as a test or a difficult emotional situation. When the stress resolves, the anxiety should also go away.
When anxiety causes dizziness and vomiting, it may initiate a continuous cycle. A person feels anxious, then vomits, and then gets anxious about the cause of the vomiting.
Other mental health factors may also play a role in vomiting and dizziness. Some people with strong food aversions or phobias may vomit when exposed to these situations. Depression can also contribute to acute or chronic stomach problems.
2. Stomach viruses and infections
Many stomach infections cause nausea and vomiting. The inflammation that often results from these infections is called gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis ranges from mild to severe. In rare cases, it can be life-threatening — especially in infants, older people, and those at risk of dehydration.
Excessive vomiting can lead to dizziness, especially if a person ends up dehydrated. Some people also feel dizzy when they get nauseated.
Some of the most common causes of gastroenteritis include:
- viruses, such as norovirus and rotavirus
- bacterial infections, such as E. coli and Salmonella
Diabetes makes it more difficult for the body to metabolize glucose, potentially causing very high blood sugar. People with diabetes may vomit or feel dizzy when their blood sugar goes too high or too low.
In some cases, diabetes causes a life-threatening condition called diabetic ketoacidosis. Symptoms of ketoacidosis include:
- stomach pain
- dry, flushed skin
- severe thirst and frequent urination
- fruity-smelling breath or urine
4. Inner ear issues
Inner ear issues can cause dizziness.
The inner ear helps regulate balance. Problems with the inner ear, including infections and physical injuries, can cause dizziness or vertigo.
Vertigo is the feeling that the body is moving in space, even when it is not. It may feel like a person is spinning or turning when they are standing still.
Some people may also become nauseated due to the dizziness and vomit. Inner ear problems can develop slowly over time, or come on suddenly.
If a person has inner ear problems that appear suddenly, they may have a condition called acute vestibular syndrome. A wide range of health issues can cause acute vestibular syndrome.
However, about 4 percent of people experiencing an ischemic stroke have symptoms of acute vestibular syndrome. If dizziness is intense or interferes with a person's ability to function properly, it is essential to see a doctor.
5. Liver problems
The liver acts as the body's detoxification system. If the liver is not working properly, a person may feel dizzy or vomit.
Liver problems may also cause very dark urine, intense pain in the upper right side of the body, and yellow skin and eyes.
Sometimes a gallstone can block a bile duct, causing liver issues. If the body can pass the gallstone, the symptoms may suddenly go away on their own.
If the gallstone cannot pass, symptoms tend to get progressively more intense. Liver health problems always warrant speaking to a doctor.
6. Neurological health problems
When something goes wrong in the brain, it can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and a wide range of other symptoms.
Infections, cysts, injuries, strokes, bleeds, or tumors can all affect various parts of the brain. People who become dizzy following a car accident or blow to the head should see a doctor.
Many people experience changes in vision and perception immediately before a migraine. It is also common to feel dizzy, vomit, and be sensitive to bright lights.
It is possible to feel dizzy from a migraine with little or no headache.
8. Motion sickness
Moving in a car, boat, airplane, or another vehicle can confuse the body's balance system. For some people, this causes motion sickness and may trigger headaches, dizziness, or vomiting.
Symptoms usually go away after a person gets back on stable ground.
9. Cyclic vomiting syndrome
Frequent bouts of dizziness and vomiting may be due to a poorly understood condition is called cyclic vomiting syndrome (CVS).
CVS sometimes gets better with diet changes, but there is little research explaining what causes this syndrome.
While there is no standard treatment for CVS, medications for nausea, migraines, acid reflux, and anxiety may provide some symptomatic relief.
10. Alcohol or drugs
A wide range of illicit drugs can cause nausea and vomiting, as well as dizziness. These symptoms are particularly likely following heavy use.
A night of binge drinking can also lead to a variety of symptoms including vomiting, dizziness, spinning, and headaches.
Sudden, unexplained dizziness and vomiting can sometimes indicate poisoning.
Poisoning is more likely when a person has been in contaminated areas, inhaled potentially toxic substances, been exposed to radiation, or consumed food or water that might be contaminated.
12. Organ injury
Organ failure and physical trauma can cause intense nausea and stomach pain, as well as vomiting and dizziness.
If a person has recently suffered a physical injury, had a severe infection, or is at risk of organ failure, they should consider the possibility of organ problems causing dizziness and vomiting.
Pregnancy hormones can cause dizziness and vomiting, particularly in the first trimester. Some people find that avoiding certain foods, resting, drinking more water, and preventing hunger help reduce symptoms.
A stroke can be a life-threatening emergency. Most strokes are due to a blood clot in the brain. A burst blood vessel in the brain can also cause a bleeding stroke.
Some people experience nausea and vomiting during a stroke. However, almost all people having strokes experience other symptoms, too. Nausea and vomiting alone are unlikely to mean a person is having a stroke.
Staying hydrated may help with mild symptoms of vomiting and dizziness.
Not all home remedies work for all forms of vomiting and dizziness. If either symptom is severe, it is vital to seek medical attention.
When symptoms are mild or come and go, a person can try some of the following strategies:
- Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated. An electrolyte replacement drink may also help.
- Using a carbonated beverage to help settle the stomach.
- Lying down in a cool, quiet place to rest.
- Avoiding bright lights, loud sounds, and anything that might overstimulate the brain.
- Eating a bland diet until vomiting stops. Clear liquids, such as broths, tea, and juices, may also help.
- Trying an over-the-counter stomach medication to reduce vomiting.
When to see a doctor
People should see a doctor within 24 hours if:
- Vomiting occurs with a fever.
- Vomiting is intense, and it is impossible to keep any food down.
- Vomiting related to pregnancy is getting worse.
- A migraine headache is getting worse or will not go away.
Go to the emergency room or seek urgent care if:
- There are signs of a stroke, such as a droopy face, balance changes, muscle weakness, changes in consciousness, an intense headache, new numbness or tingling, or difficulty thinking or speaking clearly.
- There is blood in the vomit, or the vomit looks like coffee grounds.
- Symptoms occur after a head injury, car accident, or blow to the stomach.
- There are signs of liver failure, such as yellow skin or pain in the upper right abdomen.
- Pain in the stomach or head is intense or unbearable.
- A person with diabetes has symptoms of ketoacidosis.
Dizziness and vomiting are never pleasant but often go away on their own. There is often no need to panic if these symptoms suddenly appear, but it is vital to be aware of possible causes that warrant medical attention.
If the dizziness and vomiting get worse or persist, a person should speak to a doctor for a proper diagnosis.