Any number of conditions can make you sick to your stomach after a meal, from food poisoning to pregnancy.
A closer look at your other symptoms can help you pinpoint what’s causing your nausea. Once you’ve identified the problem, your doctor can help you find a treatment that will stop you from getting sick to your stomach. Then you can enjoy your meals, nausea-free.
There are many conditions that can make you nauseated after eating.
Certain foods, like shellfish, nuts, or eggs, can fool your immune system into identifying them as harmful foreign invaders. When you eat one of these trigger foods, your immune system launches a series of events that leads to the release of histamine and other chemicals. These chemicals produce allergy symptoms, which can range from hives and mouth swelling, to nausea.
Food that sits around for too long or isn’t properly refrigerated attracts bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can make you sick. Food poisoning symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, typically start within a few hours after you’ve eaten contaminated food.
This common bug, which is sometimes nicknamed the “stomach flu,” infects the intestines and triggers gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. You can catch a stomach virus by getting too close to someone who’s sick, or by eating food or drinking water that’s been contaminated with the virus.
One of the earliest signs that you’re pregnant is an uneasy, queasy feeling, which often starts during the second month of your pregnancy. Changing hormone levels trigger pregnancy nausea.
Though it’s officially termed “morning sickness,” nausea can strike at any time of day, including mealtimes. Sometimes the smell or taste of certain foods is enough to make your stomach roll. The feeling is temporary, and it won’t harm you or your baby.
A burning feeling behind your breastbone, known as heartburn, is the hallmark symptom of gastroesophageal disease (GERD), but this condition can cause nausea, too. GERD happens when the muscular valve between your esophagus and stomach malfunctions, allowing stomach acid to leak up into your esophagus.
Stress doesn’t only take a toll on your emotions. It affects your physical health, too. A difficult breakup or job loss can make you lose your appetite, or feel sick after you eat. The nausea should let up once you get your stress under control.
Some chemotherapy drugs cause nausea as a side effect. The nausea should go away after you’ve finished the treatment.
Your gallbladder is an organ that sits in the upper right side of your abdomen. It helps your body digest fats. Gallstones and other gallbladder diseases can affect your ability to digest fats. As a result, you’ll feel sick to your stomach, especially after you eat a rich, fatty meal.
IBS is a collection of GI symptoms, which can include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation. Nausea is one of the most common complaints in people with IBS.
Some people are especially sensitive to movement. If you’re among them, the motion of a moving vehicle will make you feel sick. Eating before or after your ride can make the nausea even worse.
Look for these other symptoms, which will help you pinpoint the cause of your nausea:
|Possible cause||Additional symptoms|
|food allergy||hives, itching, swelling of the mouth or throat, trouble breathing, wheezing, stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting|
|food poisoning or stomach virus||vomiting, watery diarrhea, cramps, low fever|
|gallbladder disease||pain in the upper right abdomen, vomiting|
|heartburn||a burning feeling in your chest, burping up a sour liquid, the feeling that something is in your chest, coughing|
|irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)||pain in the abdomen, diarrhea, constipation|
|motion sickness||vomiting, dizziness, cold sweat, uneasy feeling|
|pregnancy||tender and swollen breasts, missed period, fatigue|
|stress or anxiety||muscle aches, fatigue, loss of sex drive, sleep problems, sadness, irritability|
When to see a doctor
Having nausea once in a while after you eat isn’t cause for alarm, but you should call a doctor if it doesn’t go away within a week. Call right away if you have any of these other, more serious symptoms:
- blood in your vomit or stools
- chest pain
- diarrhea that lasts for more than a few days
- extreme thirst, little urine production, weakness, or dizziness, which are signs of dehydration
- fever of over 101.5°F (30°C)
- intense pain in the abdomen
- rapid heartbeat
- severe vomiting or trouble keeping food down
In children under age 6, call their pediatrician if:
- vomiting lasts for more than a few hours
- you notice signs of dehydration, such as few or no wet diapers, no tears, or sunken cheeks
- your child is running a fever higher than 100°F (37.8°C)
- diarrhea doesn’t go away
In children over age 6, call your child’s pediatrician if:
- vomiting or diarrhea lasts for more than a day
- you notice signs of dehydration, such as your child isn’t urinating or producing tears, or they have sunken cheeks
- your child is running a fever of over 102°F (38.9°C)
Your doctor will ask you to describe your symptoms, including when you feel nauseated, how long the feeling lasts, and what seems to trigger it. Keeping a diary of what you eat and how you feel afterward can help your doctor make a diagnosis.
Depending on what condition your doctor suspects, you might need tests, such as:
- blood or urine tests
- a skin test to see if you have food allergies
- upper endoscopy to see whether your esophagus is swollen, which is a sign of GERD
- CT, X-ray, or ultrasound scans to check your organs for signs of disease
- colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, or upper or lower GI series to look for problems in your GI tract
The cause of your nausea will determine how you treat it.
|cancer treatment||take the antinausea medicine your doctor prescribes, eat smaller meals made up of bland foods, such as clear broth, chicken, or oatmeal, and try acupuncture|
|food allergy||avoid the food that triggers your symptoms|
|gallbladder disease||take medicine to dissolve gallstones or have surgery to remove your gallbladder, known as cholecystectomy|
|GERD or heartburn||avoid spicy and fatty foods, lose weight, and take antacids or other medicines to reduce excess stomach acid|
|IBS||avoid foods that bother your stomach|
|motion sickness||when you travel, sit in a location where you’ll feel the least amount of movement, such as near the front of a train or over a wing in an airplane, and wear a motion sickness wristband or patch|
|pregnancy nausea||eat bland foods, such as crackers, toast, and pasta|
|stomach virus||eat bland foods, suck on ice chips, and rest for a few days until you get over the infection|
|stress or anxiety||see a therapist and try relaxation techniques, such as meditation and yoga|
Your outlook will depend on what’s causing your nausea, and how you treat it. Usually, nausea after you eat will get better once you address the source of the problem.
Tips for prevention
Try these tips to avoid feeling sick after you eat:
- Suck on ice cubes or crushed ice.
- Avoid greasy, fried, or spicy foods.
- Eat mainly bland foods, such as crackers or toast.
- Eat smaller meals more frequently, instead of three large meals.
- Relax and sit still after you eat to give your food time to digest.
- Eat and drink slowly.
- Serve foods cold or at room temperature if the smell of cooked food makes you feel queasy.