Nausea is 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 variety of causes. Some people are highly sensitive to motion or to certain foods, medications, or the effects of certain medical conditions. All these things can cause nausea. Common causes of nausea are described below.
Heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Infection or virus
Bacteria or viruses can affect the stomach and lead to nausea. Foodborne bacteria can cause an illness known as food poisoning. Viral infections can also cause nausea.
Taking certain medications — for example, cancer treatments like chemotherapy — can upset the stomach or contribute to nausea. Be sure to carefully read the medication information for any new treatments you may be taking.
Reading this information and talking to your doctor about any medications and treatments you’re receiving can help you minimize medication-related nausea.
Motion sickness and seasickness
Motion sickness and seasickness can result from a bumpy ride on a vehicle. This movement can cause the messages transmitted to the brain to not sync up with the senses, leading to nausea, dizziness, or vomiting.
Overeating or eating certain foods, such as spicy or high-fat foods, can upset the stomach and cause nausea. Eating foods you’re allergic to can also cause nausea.
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
Seek immediate medical help if your nausea is accompanied by heart attack symptoms. Heart attack symptoms include 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, or confusion. Seek medical help if you suspect that you’ve ingested a poisonous substance or if you’re dehydrated.
See your physician if nausea has left you unable to eat or drink for more than 12 hours. You should also see your physician if your nausea doesn’t subside within 24 hours of trying over-the-counter interventions.
Always seek medical attention if you’re concerned you may be experiencing a medical emergency.
Treatment for nausea depends on the cause.
Sitting in the front seat of a car, for example, 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 can help as well. Examples include stomach-acid reducers for GERD or pain-relieving medications for intense headaches.
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.
When you begin to reintroduce food, it’s helpful to stick to the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast) until your stomach is more settled.
Avoiding nausea triggers can help to prevent nausea’s onset. This includes avoiding:
- flickering lights, which can trigger migraine attacks
- 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.