Nausea is an uncomfortable, unsettling feeling that is often accompanied by the urge to vomit. While nausea is not a condition in itself, it can result from a variety of medical conditions and diseases. Symptoms of nausea affect almost everybody at some point in their lives, and affect both children and adults. Nausea is most common in pregnant women and patients undergoing cancer treatments.
What is Nausea?
Nausea is a sensation of feeling unwell, feeling queasy, and having the urge to vomit. While nausea is often associated with vomiting, a patient can experience nausea without vomiting. Nausea is sometimes referred to as being “sick to your stomach,” and often describes the feeling people get when they think they might throw up.
What Causes Nausea?
The most common causes of nausea are intense pain, stomach flu, or other gastrointestinal disturbances. Nausea often accompanies several other conditions including:
- Motion sickness
- Migraine headaches
- Intense anxiety or other strong emotional stress
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)
- Crohn’s Disease
- Cyclic vomiting syndrome
- Thyroid disease
- Liver disease
- Gallbladder disease
- Meniere’s Disease
- Food poisoning
- Viral infections
- Bacterial infections
- Ear infection
- Bulimia nervosa
- Anorexia nervosa
- Heart attack
- Brain injury
- Brain tumor
- Some forms of cancer
- Alcoholism or excessive alcohol intake
- Food allergies
- Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
Pregnant women often experience nausea, particularly during the first few months, or first trimester, of pregnancy. This is known as morning sickness, and typically goes away in the second and third trimesters. In fact, approximately 50-90% of all pregnant women experience nausea at some point during their pregnancy.
Certain medications may also induce nausea. Patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation often experience nausea as a side effect of such treatments. Sometimes, patients under general anesthesia for medical procedures also experience nausea.
Some people experience nausea as a reaction to certain smells or odors. These smells or odors could be those that are particularly strong, unpleasant, or tied to a certain unfavorable memory or event.
Signs and Symptoms of Nausea
Symptoms of nausea can be short-lived and brief, or may be prolonged. Nausea symptoms are usually not painful, but very uncomfortable.
Nausea typically produces the feeling of being sick to your stomach, queasiness, and may also induce vomiting.
Prevention of Nausea
While nausea cannot be completely prevented, certain steps can be taken to reduce the severity and frequency of nausea symptoms. Such measures include:
- Avoiding over-activity
- Resting in a sitting or propped lying position when nausea symptoms begin
- Avoiding strong odors – food smells, heavy perfume, smoke
- Avoiding possible triggers of nausea – such as stuffy rooms, extreme heat, humidity, flickering lights, driving
- Avoiding consumption of large amounts of alcohol
- Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle
Treatment of Nausea
Treatment for nausea often includes rest and hydration. It is important to replace lost fluids and hydrate frequently.
Other methods to reduce symptoms of nausea include:
- Drinking plenty of clear liquids
- Avoiding alcohol
- Avoiding caffeine
- Avoiding salty, spicy, or pungent foods
- Avoiding intense physical activity or motion
- Lying down, resting
Maintaining a diet of bland foods is advised, unless nausea symptoms subside. Often a BRAT diet – bananas, rice, applesauce, toast, is recommended. Other bland foods include Jell-O and crackers. Slowly add foods such as cereal, fruit, and salty or high-protein / high-carbohydrate foods. Avoid foods that are very greasy, fried, extremely sweet, or have strong flavors.
Over-the-counter antihistamines, such as dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) and meclizine (Bonine) can also help reduce feelings of nausea. Try to limit snacking during car rides, and sit facing the front window.
Some patients have found nausea relief through herbal remedies and alternative treatments. While such treatments have not been scientifically proven, they have been seen to provide relief in many patients. Treatments such as acupuncture, acupressure, and aromatherapy have been successful in some patients. Other patients have found relief through consumption of peppermint.
Eating small amounts of ginger, drinking ginger tea or ginger ale have also been shown to treat and reduce symptoms of nausea.
A medical professional can also prescribe anti-nausea medications. Prescription skin patches, such as scopolamine (Transderm Scop), are often used for seasickness or motion sickness. Scopolamine should not be given to children.
If your nausea is caused by an underlying condition or ailment, directly treating the condition can help eliminate or reduce symptoms of nausea.
When Should I Call a Doctor?
Consult a medical provider if your nausea symptoms are not getting better, or have worsened, for more than 48 hours.
- Vomiting for longer than 24 hours
- Inability to keep fluids down for 12 hours or more
- Lack of urination for 8 hours or more
- Stomach pain
- Vomiting more than 3 times in one day
- Headache, with severity unlike any you have experienced before
Pregnant women, or women who may be pregnant, should consult with their physicians prior to initiating any medication, if experiencing nausea for the first time, or if their nausea is worsening.
Emergency Warning Signs
Seek emergency care immediately if you experience any of the following while nauseous:
- Your nausea causes vomiting that may be due to poisoning
- You notice blood, dark-colored coffee-grind-like material, or fecal matter in your vomit
- Chest pain
- Severe abdominal pain
- Blurry vision
- Decreased alertness
- Headache and stiff neck, with high fever
- Cold, clammy, pale skin
- Rapid breathing or pulse