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What causes nausea? 179 possible conditions

What Is Nausea?

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.

What Causes Nausea?

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
  • meningitis
  • migraine headaches

When to Seek Medical Help

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.

How Is Nausea Treated?

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.

How Is Nausea Prevented?

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.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.


Yellow Skin (Jaundice)

Jaundice is yellowing of the skin and eyes and can indicate a serious problem with liver, gallbladder, or pancreas function.

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Stomach Ulcer

Stomach ulcers are painful sores in the stomach lining or small intestine. They occur when the mucus that protects the stomach from digestive juices is reduced.

Read more »



Hepatitis is swelling and inflammation of the liver. It's usually caused by a viral infection. There are several types of hepatitis, including: A, B, C, D, and E. Symptoms may not occur until liver damage occurs.

Read more »


Peptic Ulcer

Peptic ulcers are sores that develop in the lining of the stomach, esophagus, or rarely in small intestine. They are usually caused by H. pylori, excessive NSAID or alcohol usage, smoking, or stomach cancer.

Read more »


Food Poisoning

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Food poisoning occurs when you consume foods contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Symptoms are usually uncomfortable but not severe. Serious reactions can be life threatening and require medical treatment.

Read more »



Gastritis is acute or chronic inflammation of the protective lining of the stomach. It's often caused by the bacterium H. pylori, but can also be the result of excessive NSAID, alcohol, or cocaine consumption.

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Types of Acid Reflux

Acid reflux symptoms are caused when stomach contents flow up from the stomach back into the esophagus, causing symptoms like heartburn, stomach pain, and burping.

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Migraine with Aura

Migraine is a disorder characterized by repeated attacks of severe headache. Symptoms include throbbing or pulsating pain, usually on only one side of the head, and can last between four hours and three days.

Read more »


Skull Fractures

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A skull fracture is any break in the cranial bone, or the skull. It can result in bleeding, bruising, pain, and swelling. Less severe symptoms include headache, nausea, confusion, and blurred vision.

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Alcoholic Liver Disease

Damage to the liver from excessive drinking can lead to ALD. Years of alcohol abuse cause the liver to become inflamed and swollen. This damage can also cause scarring known as cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is the final stage o...

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Cirrhosis is severe scarring and poor function of the liver caused by long-term exposure to toxins such as alcohol or viral infections. Certain medications and disorder can also cause cirrhosis.

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Biliary (Bile Duct) Obstruction

A biliary obstruction blocks the bile ducts, which carry bile to the small intestine for digestion and waste removal. An obstruction can be caused by many factors, including gallstones, inflammation, cysts, or tumors.

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Intestinal Obstruction

If your small or large intestine becomes blocked, fluid and digested food cannot move through. This can cause bloating, stomach cramps, and burping.

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Gallstones are hard deposits in the gallbladder that can eventually block the exiting bile ducts. Abdominal pain, fever, itchy skin, and jaundice are possible symptoms.

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This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Alkalosis is a condition in which the body fluids have excess base (alkali). This is the opposite of excess acid (acidosis). The fluids in your body contain two substances: acids and bases; alkali is the base. Th...

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Colorectal (Colon) Cancer

Colorectal cancer is a cancer that originates in the rectum or colon. Both of these organs are located at the lower portion of your digestive system. The colon is at the end of the large intestine and the rectum is a...

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This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix, which can be fatal if left untreated. The telltale sign is pain that usually starts as mild cramping, especially on the right side, and becomes more severe over time.

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This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Peritonitis is the inflammation of a thin layer of tissue inside the abdomen. Caused by bacteria or fungus, it causes tenderness, bloating, fatigue, greying of the skin, and other problems.

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Heart Attack Overview

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A clot blocks the blood flow to the heart (heart attack), and damages heart muscle. Symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, and a blue or grey tinge to the skin.

Read more »


The Many Sides of Bacterial Gastroenteritis

Bacterial infections are common causes of gastrointestinal infections. This type of infection is also called "food poisoning" and is often caused by poor hygiene or ingesting foods contaminated with bacteria.

Read more »

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.