You can experience nausea for a variety of reasons, including pregnancy, medication use, food poisoning, and infection. Nausea can range from being mildly uncomfortable and unpleasant to seriously interfering with your daily activities.
Acid reflux, a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), can be a cause of nausea, according to the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG). Recognizing GERD symptoms and treating them under the supervision of your physician can help you avoid acid reflux-induced nausea.
You might wonder why acid reflux can make you feel nauseous at times. A couple of factors can play into this, and they relate to how acid reflux works. Reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a ring of muscle that separates your esophagus and your stomach, is unable to close tightly after you’ve ingested food or fluids.
A LES that doesn’t function properly allows stomach acids and food particles to flow back up your esophagus to your throat. The LES can weaken for a number of reasons, even because of the types of food you eat. Common culprits include:
- fried, greasy or fat-laden foods
- tomatoes and red sauces
- citrus fruits and juices
- spicy foods
- carbonated beverages
- caffeinated beverages
- coffee (even decaf)
Those suffering from acid reflux often experience a sour taste in their mouth from stomach acids. The taste, along with the frequent burping and coughing associated with GERD, can create nausea and even vomiting in some cases.
Indigestion is another symptom of GERD that can contribute to nausea, and is largely related to eating meals with high fat content. Fat is more difficult to digest than other nutrients, such as fiber and whole grains. When you eat a large amount of fat at one time, your digestive system slows down and can cause a condition called gastroparesis, or delayed gastric emptying. In layman’s terms, undigested food stays in your stomach longer than usual, which can create nausea and indigestion as well as heartburn.
Treating Acid Reflux-Induced Nausea
Generally, you can treat acid reflux-induced nausea with a combination of lifestyle changes, home remedies, and medication (if warranted by your doctor). Here are some steps you can take:
- Change your eating patterns. Eat smaller meals and reduce your fat intake to curtail indigestion and keep your LES working as it should. Try eating frequently—reflux and nausea can occur when your stomach is too empty.
- Stop smoking. Nicotine products can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, increasing your symptoms.
- Be comfortable. Wear loose-fitting clothes that don’t put additional pressure on your stomach to help reduce acid reflux and nausea.
- Change your position. Keep stomach acids in your stomach by staying in an upright position for two to three hours after eating. Put 6-inch blocks under the head of your bed to assist gravity if needed.
- Chew gum. Chewing gum can reduce your incidence of acid reflux, according to the Journal of Dental Research, and also eliminates the sour taste in your mouth that can cause nausea.
- Harness the power of ginger. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) suggests checking with your doctor about taking ginger supplements as a natural way to relieve nausea.
- Take antacids. Antacid tablets or liquids may curb nausea and acid reflux by neutralizing stomach acids.
- Get a prescription. Prokinetic medications may be prescribed by your physician to help your stomach empty more efficiently and rapidly. Anti-emetic medications could be a possibility as well to relieve nausea.
When to See a Doctor
Seek medical attention if you’re unable to manage your GERD effectively and nausea interferes with your daily life. You may need to switch to a different medication, take a closer look at your diet, or undergo further medical testing to determine why your acid reflux and nausea continues. Let your primary care physician or gastroenterologist know if you’re unable to eat due to nausea, as you may be at risk for dehydration.