Dizziness, nausea and vomiting occur with many diseases and conditions affecting different organ systems. Mild to potentially life-threatening ailments of the gastrointestinal tract, nervous system and cardiovascular system commonly provoke these symptoms. Accurate diagnosis of the underlying cause of dizziness, nausea and vomiting proves essential in developing an effective treatment plan.
Gastroenteritis is a common condition characterized by inflammation of the stomach and intestines, which typically causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. It is most commonly caused by a virus, such as the norovirus. Persistent nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration and dizziness. Food poisoning is another common cause of these symptoms. Accidental or intentional ingestion of toxic substances or too much medication often leads to these symptoms as well. Other gastrointestinal ailments that may cause nausea, vomiting and dizziness include a bowel blockage, appendicitis and inflammation of the gallbladder or pancreas.
Migraines are recurrent headaches typically characterized by throbbing pain limited to one side of the head. Other symptoms often accompany migraines, including nausea, vomiting, dizziness and visual disturbances. A concussion or another head injury that causes brain swelling can also cause nausea, vomiting and dizziness, which are often accompanied by other symptoms. An infection of the nervous system, such as meningitis, can also cause these symptoms, as can bleeding within the brain or a brain tumor.
Vestibular neuritis and labyrinthitis are inflammatory conditions of the inner ear nerves, most commonly caused by a viral infection. Both conditions typically cause a specific form of dizziness known as vertigo, which causes a spinning sensation. Other symptoms of vestibular neuritis and labyrinthitis include nausea, vomiting and balance problems, which may be severe. Persistent nausea and vomiting may lead to dehydration, which further aggravates dizziness. Motion sickness, which is also related to the inner ear, can be serve enough to cause nausea, vomiting and dizziness in some people.
A heart attack occurs when obstructed blood supply to an area of the heart causes oxygen deprivation, leading to death of the heart tissue. Nausea, vomiting and dizziness are common symptoms of a heart attack. Other common symptoms of a heart attack include chest discomfort, shortness of breath, sweating and arm, neck, jaw, back or stomach pain. Immediate medical assistance decreases the risk of a heart attack-associated death and can often limit the tissue damage caused by a heart attack.
Many other medical conditions can cause nausea, vomiting and dizziness, including kidney failure, liver failure, thyroid disorders and adrenal failure. Severe chemical imbalances in the body can also lead to these symptoms, such as with diabetic ketoacidosis -- a condition in which the blood sugar is very high and the body is burning large amounts of fat for fuel.
When to See a Doctor
While some ailments that cause nausea, vomiting and dizziness go away relatively quickly without specific treatment, other causes can be potentially life-threatening. Seek urgent medical care if you have any symptoms of a heart attack, you've sustained a blow to the head, or vomit blood or material that smells like stool. Similarly, get immediate medical attention if you experience severe or worsening abdominal pain, a seizure or other nervous system symptoms -- such as weakness, confusion, extreme sleepiness or difficulty speaking.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Norovirus
- The Merck Manual Professional Edition: Nausea and Vomiting
- The Merck Manual Professional Edition: Overview of Gastroenteritis
- Vestibular Disorders Association: Labyrinthitis and Vestibular Neuritis
- Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, 16th Edition; Dennis L. Kasper, M.D., et al.
- Family Practice Notebook: Nausea Causes