Stomach pains and nausea frequently occur with common ailments that usually pose no serious health threat, such as indigestion, overeating or a mild case of the so-called stomach flu. When dizziness accompanies these symptoms, however, it tends to point to more concerning health condition. In the setting of stomach pain and nausea, dizziness often signals a drop in blood pressure due to dehydration or, less frequently, blood loss. Therefore, this triad of symptoms requires medical evaluation to determine the cause optimal treatment.
Infectious Foodborne Illness
Typical symptoms of infectious foodborne illnesses include nausea with or without vomiting, stomach pains, diarrhea, excess gas and possibly fever. Common foodborne illnesses -- such as staph food poisoning or norovirus infection -- usually do not last long enough to cause significant dehydration and associated dizziness in otherwise healthy adults. Seniors and young children, however, are more susceptible to this complication. More severe or persistent foodborne illnesses frequently lead to dehydration and dizziness, such as those caused by Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, Campylobacter jejuni or Cryptosporidium, among others.
Clostridium difficile Colitis
Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, colitis is an infectious condition caused by overgrowth of this bacterial species in the colon -- most commonly after a course of antibiotics. Seniors and those with a recent hospital stay or residing in a long-term healthcare facility are most susceptible to this condition. C. diff bacteria produce toxins that inflame and damage the cells lining the colon. Typical symptoms of C. diff colitis include fever, abdominal pain or cramps, loss of appetite, nausea and several episodes of watery diarrhea daily. The diarrhea often leads to dehydration and dizziness, particularly among people with moderate to severe disease.
Bleeding or Perforated Ulcer
Ulcers in the stomach or first part of the small intestine, the duodenum, most frequently develop due to infection with Helicobacter pylori bacteria or frequent use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including aspirin, celecoxib (Celebrex), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). Burning or gnawing pain in the upper, central stomach area frequently occurs with an ulcer, often accompanied by nausea, bloating and possibly reduced appetite. Bleeding is the most frequent complication of stomach and duodenal ulcers. With mild ongoing bleeding, anemia and dizziness can develop. With more severe bleeding, rapid blood loss can provoke sudden dizziness and possibly fainting.
A perforated ulcer refers to one that has eroded completely through the wall of the stomach or duodenum. This complication typically provokes severe abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and often a profound drop in blood pressure with associated dizziness.
With acute pancreatitis, the pancreas develops sudden severe inflammation. It most frequently occurs due to gallstone blockage of the duct that carries pancreatic digestive enzymes to the small intestine or excessive alcohol use. Symptoms include excruciating upper abdominal pain that frequently radiates to the back, abdominal tenderness, nausea, vomiting, fever and often dizziness due to a drop in blood pressure.
A number of other conditions might cause stomach pains, nausea and dizziness along with other symptoms. With several of these, one or more of the symptom triad being discussed is either uncommon or typically overshadowed by more prominent symptoms. Examples of possible other causes include:
- Gallbladder attack (acute cholecystitis)
- Heart attack
- Diabetic ketoacidosis
- Inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart (pericarditis)
- Pregnancy outside the uterus (ectopic pregnancy)
- Twisted ovary (ovarian torsion)
Warnings and Precautions
Contact your doctor to determine next steps if you experience stomach pains, nausea and dizziness, especially if you have diabetes or another preexisting medical condition. Seek immediate medical care if you experience any accompanying warning signs or symptoms, including:
- Severe or worsening abdominal pain
- Chest pain, pressure or discomfort
- Vomiting blood or material that resembles coffee grounds
- Passing bloody or maroon stool
- Fever, chills or clammy skin
- Rapid heart and/or breathing rate
- Confusion, irritability, moodiness or personality changes
Is This an Emergency?
- MMWR: Diagnosis and Management of Foodborne Illnesses, A Primer for Physicians and Other Health Care Professionals
- Annals of Gastroenterology: Clostridium difficile infection: A Review of Current and Emerging Therapies
- American Family Physician: Evaluation of Nausea and Vomiting
- American Family Physician: Evaluation of Acute Abdominal Pain in Adults
- Merck Manual Professional Version: Peptic Ulcer Disease
- Merck Manual Professional Version: Acute Pancreatitis