Can Vertigo Trigger IBS Symptoms?
Last updated: September 2021
As if I already didn't have enough going haywire with my body, in the past year, I seemed to have developed a propensity towards having severe vertigo episodes that can last days at a time. But what's even weirder is it seems to impact my IBS.
I have had some instances of vertigo before in recent years. They were mild to moderate and usually gone within a day or two. I don't recall them having any effects on my GI issues.
However, last October, after some milder dizzy spells earlier that week, I woke up early Halloween morning to find the room spinning violently. I felt very nauseated and sweaty. However, I also felt like I had to use the bathroom immediately. I barely made it to the bathroom.
The dizziness continued, and I started to throw up as well. Not knowing what was wrong, I had my boyfriend call 911, and an ambulance carted me to the ER (as this was during the COVID surge, he could not come with me).
Vertigo treatment in the hospital
I spent the next 8 hours or so in the hospital getting a battery of tests, including a CAT scan, EKG, blood work, and urine testing. Within that time, I went to the bathroom some 4 or 5 other times. I didn't have diarrhea, but it was just as though my gut wanted to empty itself out completely. I was released later that day on some Dramamine-type medication. While the severity of the vertigo wasn't as bad in the following weeks, I still felt off-balance. The best way to describe it was I felt like I was walking on a boat while drunk.
I had a brain MRI and other lab work. Finally, since I had had a migraine earlier that day, the doctors figured I had perhaps developed something known as a vestibular migraine. It can occur with or without a headache present (but often can follow a bad headache or migraine), and it can cause disturbances in the vestibular section of the inner ear. Even though it's not as common as nausea and vomiting, some sites note symptoms can include GI problems.
More vertigo and IBS symptoms
For the following months, I had a few more minor vertigo episodes. But a couple of weeks ago, I woke up again feeling shaky and sweaty and terribly nauseated. Yet, when I first opened my eyes, while I definitely had that "on a boat" sensation, the room wasn't actually spinning. I also felt like I had to go to the bathroom, so I got up unsteadily and made my way. When I got back to bed, I wondered what was going on, but as I turned on my side, I got my answer: the room was spinning violently.
After a week of dizziness and intermittent GI upset, I got my answer for what was wrong when I visited an ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat) doctor: something called Benign Positional Vertigo (BPV). BPV is when the crystals in your inner ear become displaced and cause vertigo. The ENT repositioned my head and body, and like magic, vertigo went away!
Yet a week later, I woke up again in the early morning hours with the same feeling: queasy, shaking, and needing to go to the bathroom. The doctor could not see me, so later in the morning, I Googled how to do the maneuver myself to settle the crystals in my ear (called the Epley maneuver). It worked again, and I could go on vacation as planned for a couple of days.
Seeking answers about the connection
It's not clear to me if the first vertigo event from last fall was also due to BPV or a vestibular migraine or both (some sites suggest one can cause the other). What IS clear to me is that for whatever reason, my GI issues flare as a first warning the vertigo event is coming on. While it's not unheard of, GI issues seem a little less common than nausea and vomiting. I am guessing as someone with IBS who is already sensitive to any changes in my body, that of course, my GI will be the first to react. Whatever the case, it's interesting to note that this is a telltale sign. I am about to get a vertigo attack if it wakes me up early in the morning and I am feeling wobbly.
Do you have vertigo issues? If so, does it impact your IBS? Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments.
Which of the following symptoms of IBS do you experience most frequently?