8 Causes of feeling sick and stomach gurgling: In-depth Answers.

Our content is not intended nor recommended as a substitute for medical advice by your doctor. Use for informational purposes only.

1. Acute gastroenteritis (especially stomach flu).

Stomach flu is a digestive system infection (mainly the stomach and small intestine) with a gut virus.

RECENT onset stomach gurgling and feeling sick is likely to be an attack of stomach flu. But stomach flu is unlikely if you get these symptoms over a long period (weeks or months).

The early stage of stomach flu can present only with a sick feeling and

Stomach flu (also called viral gastroenteritis) is caused by a variety of viruses, such as:

  • Norovirus (The most common cause of acute viral gastroenteritis and acute gastroenteritis (reference)).
  • Rotavirus (less prevalent nowadays due to the invention of its vaccine).
  • Astrovirus.
  • Enteric adenovirus.
  • Covid-19 can also cause sick feelings and stomach gurgling. Consult your doctor if you have respiratory symptoms such as a sore throat or runny nose. Also, contact your health care provider if you are unsure about the cause of stomach gurgling and the sick feeling.

You get the infection through person-to-person contact and contaminated foods and drinks.

REMEMBER, Stomach flu is unlikely if your symptoms don’t evolve into diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting. Also, it is unlikely to be the cause if you have stomach gurgling and sick feelings for weeks or months.

Symptoms of stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis) and their frequency:

  • Sudden onset stomach pain (in 75% of the cases) and gurgling.
  • Diarrhea (watery): in 89% of cases.
  • Nausea: in 93% of the causes.
  • Vomiting: 81%.
  • Feeling sick (body aches, headache, dizziness, fatigue, and malaise).
  • Low-grade fever (up to 38.9°C or 102°F): in about 50% of the cases.
  • The symptoms often start abruptly and continue for a few days (often resolving within three days).
  • Vomiting and diarrhea are more severe in babies and young children and may cause dehydration (sunken eyes, extreme thirst, dry skin, dizziness, and confusion).
  • Sometimes, the symptoms are mild, with stomach gurgling and feeling sick with mild or no diarrhea.
  • Also, diarrhea may start after abdominal pain and stomach gurgling.

What to do?

  • Stomach flue is often self-limiting within a few days. No drugs that directly kill the stomach virus.
  • Avoid dehydration (drink water, sports drinks, and broths). Sugary drinks and fruit juices are high in sugar, and you should avoid them (reference).
  • Eat bland foods such as the BRAT diet (banana, rice, apple sauce, and toast).
  • Some over-the-counter anti-diarrhea, antispasmodic, and anti-emetics may also help (such as Pepto-Bismol).

See a doctor if:

  • Severe symptoms (frequent diarrhea or feeling very sick), especially if the age is above 65 or older).
  • Severe intolerable abdominal pain.
  • Bloody stool or rectal bleeding.
  • Prolonged symptoms (abdominal pain, stomach gurgling, diarrhea, sick feeling).
  • Pregnancy.
  • Having a chronic disease such as diabetes mellitus.

Other causes of gastroenteritis can also cause stomach gurgling and a sick feeling. Common causes are:

  • Giardiasis (a protozoan that causes acute gastroenteritis with yellow diarrhea).
  • Bacteria include salmonella, campylobacter, shigella (bacillary dysentery), E. coli, and others.
  • Other protozoal infections such as entamoeba, cryptosporidium, and others.

2. Food intolerance or allergy.

Food intolerance is more widespread than you think. Up to 20% of people have a food intolerance, and the vast majority don’t know they have it.

Food intolerance is difficulty digesting certain types of food. The most widespread type of lactose intolerance (lactose is a sugar found in milk and dairy products).

The intolerance often results in a deficiency or a defect in the digestion or absorption of certain types of food or food constituents. As a result, food accumulates inside your digestive system and causes symptoms such as stomach gurgling and sick feelings.

Food allergy is another food reaction that causes stomach gurgling and a sick feeling. Food allergy is different from food intolerance.

An allergy is an immune-mediated response to a food that can cause more severe symptoms. The symptoms of food allergy are not confined to your gut. Extra-intestinal allergic conditions such as skin rashes also develop.

Consult your doctor or dietitian if your stomach keeps gurgling or you feel sick after consuming certain foods or drinks.

The summary and differences between food intolerance and food allergy are in the table below:

Food intolerance Food allergy
Affects 15-20% of the population Affects nearly 2-5% of adults
Difficulty digesting certain types of food (not immune-mediated allergy). An immune-mediated reaction to certain foods or food components.
Causes “recurrent acute” or “chronic” attacks of diarrhea Usually causes acute attacks related to the ingestion of offending food.
Intestinal symptoms: diarrhea, extensive gas, bloating, and abdominal pain, stomach gurgling. Intestinal symptoms are the same
No extra-intestinal symptoms Extraintestinal symptoms like rashes, urticaria, swollen lips or face, fever, feeling sick, or severe life-threatening allergic reactions.
The severity of your symptoms is proportional to the amount you eat from the offending food. Even trace amounts of the offending food can produce severe symptoms.

Common offending foods:

  • Lactose intolerance (dairy products).
  • Fructose malabsorption.
  • Alcohol intolerance.
  • FODMAP intolerance (as with People with IBS).
  • Amines, salicylate, sulfite intolerances.
  • Caffeine intolerance.

Common offending foods: (examples)

  • Raw meat, seafood.
  • Nuts, peanut
  • Mustard.
  • Rice
  • Some vegetables and fruits.

RELATED: What happens if you ignore lactose intolerance?

3- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

Irritable bowel syndrome is a functional bowel disease. No obvious cause or lesions can be detected in IBS, which is why it is called (functional).

IBS is a widespread condition affecting 10-15% of people worldwide. IBS causes attacks of abdominal pain during which your stomach keeps gurgling.

Also, IBS is linked to chronic fatigue and chronic pain syndromes such as fibromyalgia, and that’s why IBS may make you feel sick during the attacks (reference).

According to ROME IV criteria for IBS diagnosis, IBS is considered when:

  • Abdominal pain: You will feel a “crampy” sensation that is variable in intensity.
  • The pain usually is related to bowel movements. Commonly, it decreases or disappears after defecation.
  • In a small subset, the pain may increase after bowel movements.
  • Altered bowel habits:‌ periods of either constipation or diarrhea or alternating constipation and diarrhea.
  • To diagnose IBS, You should experience stomach pain consistently for a long period. The pain should come at least a day per week for several months.
  • Bloating and stomach gurgling are very common with IBS (although not included in the Rome criteria).

how is ibs diagnosed

4. Celiac Disease.

Celiac disease is considered a form of food allergy. It affects about 1% of people. Celiac disease is an immune-mediated reaction to a protein found in wheat, rye, and barely called (gluten).

Gluten protein causes destruction in the lining cells of your intestine that are responsible for food absorption. The destruction leads to symptoms such as:

  • Chronic diarrhea (not in all cases).
  • Bloating and gas (your stomach keeps gurgling whenever you eat gluten).
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Fatigue and severe iron deficiency anemia (a feeling of always being sick).
  • Abdominal colics.
  • Weight loss.
  • Sometimes, constipation can also occur.

5. Stress and anxiety situations.

Your gut has unique nerves arranged in plexuses; sometimes, we consider it a second brain or an entire nervous system (the enteric nervous system).

Your gut is deeply affected by your nervous system changes, such as mood swings, stress, and anxiety. Stress and anxiety are linked to multiple gut diseases such as IBS and functional dyspepsia.

When you pass through extreme stress, anxiety, or any mental health crisis, your digestive system gets involved.

When stomach gurgling and the feeling of sickness are concurrent with periods of mental instability, think of it as a cause.

Learn more here.

6. Females: Premenstrual syndrome and pregnancy.

Hormonal changes during pregnancy and menstruation can affect your pain tolerance and overall well-being.

Female sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone are the reason why females are more sen

7. Others:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis).
  • Medications. Many medications can disturb your digestion and even cause sick feelings such as metformin (for diabetes) and most antibiotics.
  • Any abdominal cancers such as colorectal, stomach, ovarian, etc.
  • Any systemic illnesses such as Covid-19, the common cold, or influenza can cause stomach gurgling and a feeling of sickness.
  • Gastritis and peptic ulcer disease.
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.
  • Chronic constipation.
  • Gallbladder diseases.
  • Pancreatitis.
  • And many other causes.

In conclusion, tens if not hundreds of conditions cause the sick feeling and stomach gurgling. If your symptoms are severe, prolonged, or significantly affecting your life, call your doctor to get diagnosed.