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Nausea is pronounced stomach discomfort and the sensation of wanting to vomit. Nausea can be a precursor to vomiting the contents of the stomach. The condition has many causes and can often be prevented.
Nausea can stem from a number of causes. Some people are more sensitive to motion or to certain foods, medications, or the effects of certain medical conditions than others. All these things can cause nausea. Common causes of nausea include:
Heartburn or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
When you eat, stomach contents can come back up your esophagus, creating a burning sensation that causes nausea.
Infection or Virus
Bacteria or viruses can affect the stomach and lead to nausea. Food-borne bacteria can cause an illness known as food poisoning. Viral infections such as the flu can also cause nausea.
Taking certain medications—for example, cancer treatments like chemotherapy—can upset the stomach or contribute to nausea. Such medications can include cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy. Always read the medication information for any new drugs you may be taking to determine methods to minimize medication-related nausea.
Motion Sickness and Seasickness
Motion sickness and seasickness occur due to a vehicle’s movement. This movement can cause the messages transmitted to the brain to not sync up with the senses, leading to nausea, dizziness, and/or vomiting.
Overeating or eating certain foods (such as spicy or high-fat foods) can upset the stomach and cause nausea. Eating foods you are allergic to can also cause nausea.
Intense pain can contribute to nausea symptoms. This is true for painful conditions such as pancreatitis, gallbladder stones, and or kidney stones.
Ulcers or sores in the stomach or the lining of the small intestine can contribute to nausea. When you eat, an ulcer can cause a burning sensation and sudden nausea.
Nausea is also a symptom of several other medical conditions, including:
- benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)
- ear infection
- heart attack
- intestinal blockage
- liver failure or liver cancer
- migraine headaches
Seek immediate medical help if your nausea is accompanied by heart attack symptoms such as crushing chest pain, an intense headache, jaw pain, sweating, or pain in your left arm. You should also seek emergency attention if you experience nausea combined with a severe headache, stiff neck, difficulty breathing, and/or confusion. Seek medical help if you suspect that you have ingested a poisonous substance or if you are dehydrated.
If nausea has left you unable to eat or drink for more than 12 hours, see your physician. You should also see your physician if your nausea does not subside within 24 hours after over-the-counter interventions.
This information is a summary. Always seek medical attention if you are concerned you may be experiencing a medical emergency.
Treatment for nausea depends upon the cause. For example, sitting in the front seat of a car may relieve motion sickness. Motion sickness can also be helped with medications, such as dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), an antihistamine, or by applying a scopolamine patch to relieve seasickness.
Taking medications to address nausea’s underlying cause, such as stomach-acid reducers for GERD or pain-relieving medications for intense headaches, can help as well.
Keeping hydrated can help to minimize dehydration after your nausea subsides. This includes taking small, frequent sips of clear liquids, such as water or an electrolyte-containing beverage.
Avoiding nausea triggers can help to prevent nausea’s onset. This includes avoiding:
- flickering lights, which can trigger migraine headaches
- heat and humidity
- sea voyages
- strong odors, such as perfume and cooking smells
Taking an anti-nausea medication (scopolamine) before a journey can also prevent motion sickness.
Changes to your eating habits, such as eating small, frequent meals, can help to reduce nausea symptoms. Avoiding intense physical activity after meals can also minimize nausea. Avoiding spicy, high-fat, or greasy foods can also help. Examples of foods that are less likely to cause nausea include cereal, crackers, toast, gelatin, and broth.
- Nausea and Vomiting. (2013, August 29). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved March 22, 2014, from http://my.clevelandclinic.org/symptoms/nausea/hic_nausea_and_vomiting.aspx
- Nausea and Vomiting. (2011, May 14). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved March 22, 2014, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/nausea/basics/definition/sym-20050736
- Nausea and Vomiting. (2011, November 9). Medline Plus. Retrieved March 22, 2014, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003117.htm
- Nausea and Vomiting - Overview. (2013, December 10). National Cancer Institute. Retrieved March 22, 2014, from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/nausea/HealthProfessional/page1
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