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Causes, Related Conditions & Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Key Points

  • Nausea, a sensation that often leads to vomiting, can be triggered by factors like poor diet, infection, motion sickness, heartburn, certain medications, and pregnancy.
  • Chronic nausea could be an indicator of serious health issues including ulcers, pain, gastritis, appendicitis, intestinal obstruction, and COVID-19.
  • It's recommended to seek medical advice if nausea lasts more than a day or two, or is accompanied by vomiting, inability to eat, or unusual thirst.
  • The article provides a set of questions a doctor might ask to understand your nausea better.
  • Nausea can also be referred to as stomach discomfort, queasiness, stomach upset, and urge to vomit.

What is Nausea?

Nausea is a sensation that is hard to ignore. Unfortunately, there are many things in this world that can make our stomachs turn. But why do we get this uneasy feeling and how can we stop it? Nausea is the uncomfortable sensation that you need to vomit, even if that’s not always what it leads to. Although nausea itself is not serious, it can indicate an underlying condition. Some of the most common causes of nausea include a viral infection, such as stomach flu, motion sickness or seasickness, food poisoning, alcohol poisoning, medication-induced nausea, migraines, and pregnancy.

Top 6 Causes of Nausea

1. Poor Diet

Eating too much, eating too often, or eating the wrong things can cause a person to experience nausea. Nausea is often a passing issue, but if you frequently feel nauseated after meals, it might be a good idea to consider the food you eat and whether it is healthy and nutritious.[1] If you often experience nausea after eating certain foods, there’s a possibility you might even be mildly allergic to them.

2. Infection

An infection in your stomach could cause nausea, as can viral infections. However, certain foods also have bacteria in them that can cause food poisoning, which makes you very queasy and often leads to vomiting or diarrhea for 24 hours or so. You can usually get over one of these infections without treatment, but an extremely high fever or dehydration is a sign that you need professional medical help.

3. Motion Sickness

Some people become sick when they take a certain type of transportation — typically a plane, car, or boat. Anyone can experience motion sickness, but those who often deal with it are usually aware that it is a problem for them. However, eating too much, reading while traveling, or other situational factors can cause you to be more susceptible to motion sickness.[2] If you can’t avoid the type of transportation that causes your motion sickness, you can use over-the-counter remedies such as pills, patches, and wristbands to prevent it.

4. Heartburn

Heartburn occurs when the contents of your stomach travel up into your esophagus after you eat something.[1] It can cause discomfort and even nausea. If you experience it often, there’s a chance you could have gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, which usually causes heartburn several times a week.

5. Medicines

Certain medicines, including some antibiotics, can cause nausea. Chemotherapy is a medical treatment known for causing this type of side effect, but other drugs you might take for a number of reasons can cause nausea as well.[3] Make sure you check the possible side effects of medications before taking them, such as nausea occurring when taking medicine on an empty stomach, as not knowing this could happen can be uncomfortable and even scary. Nausea may occur when taking medicine on an empty stomach, and not knowing this in advance can be uncomfortable and even scary.

6. Pregnancy

Pregnancy frequently causes nausea, especially in the early stages. Many pregnant women experience nausea in the mornings, leading people to call this symptom “morning sickness.”[4] Around 80 percent of pregnant people experience at least some sort of morning sickness, and it can be very uncomfortable. They can sometimes manage it by avoiding foods that cause nausea, as well as overly sugary, salty, or fatty foods; eating crackers and drinking water can calm the stomach and minimize severity.

Possible Health Conditions Related to Nausea

There are at least 25 different diseases that can cause chronic nausea, so if your nausea persists for more than a day or two, you are persistently vomiting, you’ve gone 24 hours without being able to keep down food, or you’re incredibly thirsty but not urinating much, it’s a good idea to see your doctor.

1. Ulcer

An ulcer is a sore; when someone refers to an “ulcer,” they often mean one that has developed in the lining of the stomach. Contrary to popular belief, stress and certain foods do not actually cause ulcers, but they can worsen their effects.[5] Along with nausea, a person might experience a burning sensation in the stomach that lasts anywhere from several minutes to several hours. Ulcers require treatment with medicine to prevent them from getting worse.

2. Pain

When you experience pain along with nausea, it is usually a sign that something is seriously wrong. You could have pancreatitis, kidney stones, gallbladder stones, or another serious condition that requires treatment from your doctor.[1] Extremely painful cramps caused by menstruation can sometimes lead to nausea and vomiting.[6] This is usually a sign of another serious disorder, such as endometriosis. Whatever the cause, if you experience severe pain that causes nausea, seek medical help.

3. Gastritis

Gastritis can occur when a person’s stomach lining becomes inflamed and weak. The digestive juices in the stomach begin to damage the lining, causing nausea, vomiting, and indigestion.[7] Major causes of gastritis include drinking heavily and often, using recreational drugs like cocaine, smoking, and aging. It’s also possible to get gastritis from using NSAIDs too often. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs include aspirin and ibuprofen, which can erode the stomach lining with frequent use.

4. Appendicitis

Nausea can be an early warning sign of appendicitis, as can pain near the abdomen and around the belly button.[8] The pain might be moderate at first, but it worsens with time. Younger children are more likely to experience appendicitis, but it can happen to anyone. Chills, shaking, fever, and diarrhea can also occur. Appendicitis is a serious issue that requires immediate medical help and surgery.

5. Intestinal Obstruction

If something blocks the contents of your bowels, you could experience nausea as well as distention of the belly, gas, an inability to pass gas, diarrhea, bad breath, constipation, and abdominal pain or cramps. Many issues can lead to intestinal obstruction, including swallowing foreign objects, scar tissue caused by surgery, tumors, a twisted intestine (volvulus), or a hernia. However, impacted stool is often the cause of intestinal obstruction, and a trip to the doctor’s office might be necessary.

6. Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Nausea is a common symptom of COVID-19. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person, and that is characterized by a wide range of mild to severe symptoms.[9] Nausea associated with COVID-19 may be accompanied by many other symptoms including vomiting, fatigue, fever, and cough.[10] There are currently no medications or vaccines approved by the FDA for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19. The most effective ways to minimize your exposure to COVID-19 include washing hands regularly, wearing a face covering, and practicing social distancing.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Your Nausea

  • How long have you dealt with nausea?
  • Do you experience pain anywhere on your body, including your stomach, headache, or anywhere else?
  • Did you eat anything strange recently? What is your normal diet like?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • Do you take any medicines?
  • Have you recently been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19?
  • Did you recently attend a large gathering or event?
  • Have you recently come into close contact with one or more people outside of your household?

Nausea May Also Be Known as

  • Stomach discomfort
  • Queasiness
  • Stomach upset
  • Urge to vomit

Frequently asked questions

  • What can cause nausea?

    Nausea can be caused by a variety of factors including poor diet, infection, motion sickness, heartburn, certain medications, and pregnancy.
  • Can chronic nausea be a sign of a serious health condition?

    Yes, chronic nausea can be a symptom of serious health conditions such as ulcers, pain, gastritis, appendicitis, intestinal obstruction, and even COVID-19.
  • When should I seek medical help for nausea?

    It's advisable to consult a doctor if your nausea persists for more than a day or two, or if it's accompanied by vomiting, inability to keep down food, or unusual thirst.
  • What are some other terms for nausea?

    Nausea can also be referred to as stomach discomfort, queasiness, stomach upset, and urge to vomit.
  • Can certain medications cause nausea?

    Yes, certain medications can cause nausea as a side effect.
  • Can poor diet lead to nausea?

    Yes, a poor diet can often lead to feelings of nausea.
  • Is nausea a symptom of COVID-19?

    Yes, nausea can be a symptom of COVID-19.
  • What questions might a doctor ask about my nausea?

    A doctor might ask about the duration of your nausea, its frequency, any accompanying symptoms, your diet, and your medication intake, among other things.

Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

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