How can IBS cause dizziness?
As well as more common GI symptoms, IBS is also thought to give rise to a number of non-GI symptoms including dizziness. Dizziness can be described as a feeling of unsteadiness, light-headedness or feeling faint. It is not clear why exactly IBS can lead to dizziness, but there are a few possible links, including:
- Gut sensitivity
- Reduced blood flow
- Abdominal cramps and pain
- Anxiety, stress or panic attacks
There are, of course, other causes of dizziness and it is important that these are considered with your doctor before coming to the conclusion that IBS is responsible. Below, I look at these possible links in more detail and explain why they could cause people with IBS to feel light-headed and dizzy.
First of all, the symptom may occur if your gut is particularly sensitive or inflamed, for example if you are suffering from leaky gut. There are well-known nerve pathways connecting the brain to the gut and one theory is that, if your gut is under stress, signals are sent to the brain which can affect your whole nervous system.
You may be more sensitive to specific foods and these could potentially be responsible for your symptoms flaring up – at which point you might also be more aware of altered bowel movements or pain. This can, in turn, make us feel even more stressed or anxious and can create a vicious cycle.
Reduced blood flow
In addition, during a period of stress or if symptoms flare up, the flow of blood can be redirected to the large intestine, reducing blood flow to other areas of the body. If this affects the brain, feelings of dizziness or light-headedness can arise as blood pressure falls.
Abdominal cramping and pain
Severe pain can also cause dizziness and, in some cases, IBS sufferers can experience a great deal of abdominal cramping and pain. If this becomes severe, it could possibly cause you to feel dizzy and faint, particularly if this pain occurs alongside other troubling IBS symptoms.
Anxiety, stress or panic attacks
Dizziness or feeling light-headed may also be the result of anxiety, stress or a panic attack. It is common for people with IBS to experience these emotional symptoms.
In fact, on average, 60% of people with IBS also have some sort of emotional symptom pattern – and anxiety and depression are amongst the most common disorders experienced by IBS sufferers.1
There is also reason to believe that there may be some involvement with neurotransmitters such as serotonin. when it comes to both IBS and anxiety/low mood. For this reason, anti-depressants may be offered in some cases as a conventional treatment.
Finally, dehydration could be contributing to your dizziness. If you often suffer from diarrhoea or have loose stools then your body will be losing vital fluids (as well as important nutrients) and you could risk becoming dehydrated if you are not replenishing these effectively.
On the other hand, if constipation is one of your primary symptoms, then this is an indication that your body is not being sufficiently hydrated. Be sure to drink at least 1.5-2 litres of water every day.
What else might be causing my dizziness?
Low blood pressure or anaemia
Dizziness can also be linked to low blood pressure or anaemia. Both of these conditions can reduce the flow of blood and delivery of oxygen to the brain, which can result in dizzy spells and, if left untreated, can cause fainting episodes. Ask your doctor to check your blood pressure and request a ferritin test to check your iron levels.
During their period, women might experience dizziness due to blood loss and a resulting drop in blood pressure, especially if their periods are particularly heavy. Signs of heavy periods include:
• Having to wear tampons and sanitary towels together
• Having to change protection more than every 2 hours
• Having issues with blood soaking through your clothes
• Having to stay off work or cancel plans.
We also know that, during your period, you are more likely to experience digestive complaints like constipation, diarrhoea and bloating, which may be confused with or exacerbate IBS symptoms. This may also be the reason behind your dizziness. You may find it helpful to take a natural iron supplement if any of the above scenarios apply to you.
Some medications can also cause dizziness. These include certain medications used to treat IBS, such as antimotility medication – for instance loperamide (Imodium) - to ease diarrhoea. Read the information on your medications and talk to your doctor to see if you can update the medicines you are taking.
Short-term dizziness can also be caused by illnesses such as stomach flu or food poisoning, or even motion sickness. Make a note of when you are experiencing dizziness and, if it is a regular occurrence, or if you feel dizzy at specific times (such as when travelling), talk to your doctor about possible solutions.
What can I try at home for dizziness?
There are a few simple steps which you could take to try and reduce the likeliness of feeling dizzy.
- Limit stress: States of stress, anxiety and panic attacks are more likely to result in us feeling lightheaded or dizzy. Relaxation methods such as breathing techniques or meditation may help to address your stress levels.
- Avoid overeating: If dizziness is a direct effect of stress on the gut, then the less pressure this organ is under, the better. Try not to overeat or consume any trigger foods that aggravate your IBS symptoms. On the flip side, low blood sugar levels can also give rise to dizziness, so make sure you are eating enough energy-giving foods, especially complex carbohydrates such as whole wheat bread and pasta, or quinoa and millet.
- Drink plenty of water: As I've mentioned, dehydration is another risk factor for feeling dizzy as it increases the risk of your blood pressure falling. Drink plenty of fluids to reduce the risk, especially if you are experiencing diarrhoea.
- Get enough sleep: Sleep allows our bodies to repair and restore. Sleep deficiency can have many side effects and dizziness is one of these. Read more about sleep and the effects of not having enough of it.
- Track your symptoms: IBS is an umbrella term, which means the symptoms can vary from person to person. So, it might help to understand in what situations you tend to experience dizziness – for example as a result of anxiety or intense pain. Then, you can work on managing these underlying symptoms more specifically.
How can herbal remedies help me?
If potentially sinister causes of dizziness have been ruled out and both you and your doctor are sure that it is your IBS causing dizziness, there are a number of herbal remedies you could try:
- Gingko biloba: Gingko biloba has been used traditionally to help maintain circulation, particularly to the brain.
- Stress Relief drops: Stress Relief drops are a herbal medicine with a combination of two herbs, Valerian and Hops. These have been used traditionally to help deal with mild stress and anxiety.
- Tormentil: If the dizziness appears to have a direct link to an upset digestive system, particularly diarrhoea, try the herb Tormentil – it can be used to help calm the gut and re-establish normal rhythmical contractions.
- Silicol gel: Another remedy that can help to soothe an irritated digestive tract is silica. This can be found in Silicol gel which coats the lining of the gut to remove toxins and irritants which could be causing your diarrhoea.
When should I visit the doctor?
You should make an appointment to see your GP if you regularly experience dizziness. This may be a result of IBS but it could also be caused by something more severe which requires a treatment from a medical professional.
Seek medical attention if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Chest pains
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abnormal heartbeat.
These could be indicative of a more serious condition which requires treatment from a medical professional and are not suitable for treatment at home.
What other symptoms show up with IBS?
Other GI and non-GI symptoms may also arise alongside dizziness as a result of IBS. Individuals with IBS can experience a range of symptoms, but some or all of these may apply to you:
How can I manage symptoms of IBS?
There are a number of measures you can take to ease symptoms of IBS and manage the condition going forward. For further information on this, you may find it helpful to read some of our IBS blogs, including:
Short-term relief of IBS may be possible with prescribed medication but tackling the root of the issue provides a better long-term solution. You can refer to our IBS blog which contains expert advice on managing IBS long-term.