Causes of Dizziness and Nausea

Dizziness and nausea are two symptoms that often occur together. If you're feeling dizzy and nauseated, there's a host of possible causes—illness, pregnancy, motion sickness, and more. However, you might be able to narrow it down by considering circumstances that are occurring when you experience these or other symptoms at the same time.

This article discusses possible causes of dizziness and nausea that are occurring together, as well as when you should see a healthcare provider.

sick woman on couch

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Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is a condition that can cause dizziness and nausea together. Tiny crystals in your inner ear, called otoconia, help you maintain your balance as your body changes positions. Sometimes, these crystals come loose and begin to float around in the inner ear.

When otoconia move out of place, BPPV can occur. This condition causes vertigo—a spinning sensation—along with other symptoms such as dizziness and nausea.

Treatment

BPPV can sometimes go away on its own without treatment. However, this condition is often treated with physical therapy using a technique called the Epley maneuver. During this treatment, the therapist will take you through a series of movements to move the otoconia out of your inner ear. Once they are out, your body can reabsorb them and your symptoms should resolve.

Unfortunately, the otoconia can sometimes fall back into the inner ear before your body has a chance to absorb them, and the maneuver has to be repeated. There aren't any medications used specifically to treat BPPV, but if your nausea is severe, your healthcare provider might prescribe anti-nausea medications to treat your symptoms. Medications can treat acute vertigo that lasts a few hours to several days.

Alcohol Misuse

Excessive alcohol consumption can cause dizziness and nausea to occur together. Alcohol affects structures in your inner ear that help maintain your balance.

Under normal circumstances, fluid in your inner ear moves as your body moves. This fluid movement puts pressure on a structure in the ear that contains nonmotile (nonmoving) cells called stereocilia. Stereocilia send electrical signals to your brain about your movement and the position of your body.

Drinking alcohol affects the thickness of the fluid in your inner ear, which can cause the stereocilia to send wrong information to your brain, making you feel like the ground is moving or you are spinning.

At the same time, consuming alcohol can cause nausea. Alcohol increases stomach acid production and the buildup of fat in your liver—both of which can cause nausea.

Treatment

The best way to treat dizziness and nausea from alcohol overuse is to cut back on the amount you are drinking, or eliminate it completely. If you do drink, eat a full meal first to help slow the absorption of the alcohol to reduce your risk of feeling ill.

Motion Sickness

Motion sickness, also known as carsickness or seasickness, often causes dizziness and nausea. This condition can also cause cold sweats, headache, and vomiting. Motion sickness occurs when your brain is "overstimulated" by sights, sounds, and body movements.

Treatment

Motion sickness typically resolves on its own after you stop moving. However, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of getting motion sickness, including:

  • Avoid reading in the car.
  • Take motion sickness medication prior to travel.
  • Sit in the front seat or next to a window.
  • Increase airflow—roll down the window or crank up the air-conditioning.
  • Stay hydrated, but avoid alcohol.
  • Avoid overeating before travel.

Pregnancy

Dizziness and nausea are common symptoms of pregnancy. Nausea is most common in the first couple of months. It can happen at any time of day, but is often referred to as morning sickness. Dizziness also occurs in pregnancy due to hormonal changes that lower your blood pressure.

Treatment

While you might not be able to prevent pregnancy-related symptoms, there are steps you can take to reduce dizziness and nausea. These include:

  • Move slowly when changing positions.
  • Eat small meals throughout the day.
  • Avoid hot baths or showers.
  • Wear loose clothing.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Don't stand still for long periods of time.
  • Avoid lying on your back.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about anti-nausea medications.

Anxiety

Anxiety is a condition caused by overwhelming worry and fear. It can lead to a host of physical symptoms, including dizziness and nausea.

Anxiety triggers the body's fight-or-flight response, which increases your blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing. This can lead to dizziness or light-headedness. The body's response to anxiety also shifts blood away from your stomach, which can lead to nausea.

Treatment

Anxiety can often be treated with lifestyle interventions. These can include:

  • Deep breathing
  • Meditation
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Exercise
  • Mindfulness activities
  • Journaling
  • Healthy diet

Anxiety that interferes with your ability to perform daily tasks can be a sign of an anxiety disorder or other mental health condition. Mental health conditions often require professional interventions, such as mental health counseling or medications.

When to Seek Medical Attention

If episodes of dizziness and nausea last more than 24 hours or interfere with your ability to do everyday tasks, see your healthcare provider.

Dizziness and nausea can also be symptoms of serious conditions such as a stroke or heart attack. These situations require immediate medical attention.

Other signs of stroke include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Weakness and/or numbness on one side of the body
  • Drooping on one side of the face
  • Balance issues
  • Confusion
  • Severe headache

Other signs of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Pain radiating into the arms, neck, back, or jaw
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat

Summary

Dizziness and nausea can occur together for a variety of reasons. These symptoms can be related to conditions such as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) or pregnancy, or it can be related to other factors such as anxiety, motion sickness during travel, or drinking alcohol.

Treatment for dizziness and nausea depends on the underlying cause. Less commonly, these symptoms can be a sign of something more serious, such as a stroke or heart attack.

A Word From Verywell

When you’re trying to determine the cause of your dizziness and nausea, take note of when your symptoms occur. In some cases, it can be easy to connect the dots—particularly if you have motion sickness and have been riding in a car or if you drank too much alcohol. Many times, simple changes to your lifestyle can bring
significant relief.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you know if dizziness is serious?

    Dizziness caused by serious conditions often occurs with other symptoms. For example, heart attack often causes chest pain, shortness of breath, and pain in the arms, back, or jaw. When in doubt, seek immediate medical attention to determine the cause of your dizziness.

  • How do you cure dizziness naturally?

    Natural treatments for dizziness depend on the cause. For example, dizziness from motion sickness can often be relieved naturally by wearing acupressure motion sickness wrist bands.

  • When does nausea start in pregnancy?

    Nausea most commonly occurs in the first few months of pregnancy.

14 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV).

  2. National Library of Medicine. Epley maneuver. MedlinePlus.

  3. Swartz R, Longwell P. Treatment of vertigoAFP. 2005;71(6):1115-1122.

  4. McGrath J, Roy P, Perrin BJ. Stereocilia morphogenesis and maintenance through regulation of actin stabilitySemin Cell Dev Biol. 2017;65:88-95. doi:10.1016/j.semcdb.2016.08.017

  5. American Addiction Centers. The spins: Why drinking alcohol can make you dizzy.

  6. Columbia University. Go ask Alice! Suddenly, drinking alcohol makes me sick!

  7. American Academy of Family Physicians. Motion sickness.

  8. National Institutes of Health. What are some common signs of pregnancy?.

  9. American Pregnancy Association. Dizziness during pregnancy.

  10. Harvard Health Publishing. Understanding the stress response.

  11. American Psychiatric Association. What are anxiety disorders?

  12. Anxiety.org. Anxiety treatments: Know your options.

  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stroke signs and symptoms.

  14. American Heart Association. Warning signs of a heart attack.

By Aubrey Bailey, PT, DPT, CHT
Aubrey Bailey is a physical therapist and professor of anatomy and physiology with over a decade of experience providing in-person and online education for medical personnel and the general public, specializing in the areas of orthopedic injury, neurologic diseases, developmental disorders, and healthy living.