There you are, going on about your day like normal, until your stomach starts to suggest otherwise. It suddenly feels like you're on a roller coaster. Your stomach is twisting. You start to feel dizzy and sweaty. Maybe you start questioning yourself maybe you're just being dramatic but then you start looking for someplace to put your barely digested lunch. This is an all too familiar case of nausea.
Common characteristics of nausea
If you're experiencing nausea, it can likely be described by:
The brain is actually responsible for those nauseous waves you're experiencing, not your stomach. The sensation can come from ingesting something that the chemoreceptor trigger zone of the brain regards as dangerous, such as certain foods or medications .
If this part of the body is what's triggering your nausea, you will most likely vomit with time. The area postrema of the brain will also make you feel queasy if there are changes to pressure or your equilibrium, such as when riding a carnival ride. If this is the case, you can try to fight the sensation until your body returns to normal and hopefully you won't vomit.
Nausea is a non-specific symptom. The following list is short considering how many possible causes there are, but it's a good place to start [2,3].
Infection or illness
Nausea may be the result of the following illnesses.
- Norovirus infection: This type of infection is common and can easily spread. Your stomach becomes inflamed, leading to discomfort, nausea, and diarrhea.
- Rotavirus infection: Rotavirus is common in children. It causes severe inflammation in the stomach and bowels. Early symptoms include nausea and vomiting, followed by diarrhea.
- Mononucleosis: Caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, mononucleosis can make the liver swell. This can lead to poor appetite, discomfort, and nausea.
Other medical conditions
Nausea can also be caused by the following.
- Recurrent migraine: If you're familiar with migraines, you know that nausea is a common symptom, along with vomiting and sensitivity to lights and sounds. If your head is pounding and you're nauseous, the two are almost always related.
- Acute stomach ulcer: Common symptoms of stomach ulcers include abdominal pain, especially after meals, and poor appetite. You can be nauseous, though this doesn't happen with everyone diagnosed with an ulcer.
- Pregnancy: This is a very common symptom early in pregnancy.
Most of the time, nausea isn't a sign of something more sinister. It might cause you to vomit or it will simply come over you in waves for several minutes or hours until the sensation dissipates.
10 Possible Nausea Conditions
The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced nausea. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Viral (norovirus) infection
If you ever heard of an entire cruise ship of people coming down with the same “stomach bug,” chances are that was norovirus. Fortunately, norovirus usually goes away on its own after a few days, but is pretty unpleasant and can spread extremely easily. The ...
Acid reflux disease (gerd)
GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) in infants refers to the passage of stomach contents into the throat causing troublesome symptoms, such as feeding intolerance, inadequate oral intake of calories and/or poor weight gain. Vomiting or visible regurgitation ...
Indigestion, also called upset stomach, dyspepsia, or functional dyspepsia, is not a disease but a collection of very common symptoms. Note: Heartburn is a separate condition.
Common causes are eating too much or too rapidly; greasy or spicy foods; overdoing caffeine, alcohol, or carbonated beverages; smoking; and anxiety. Some antibiotics, pain relievers, and vitamin/mineral supplements can cause indigestion.
The most common symptoms are pain, discomfort, and bloating in the upper abdomen soon after eating.
Indigestion that lasts longer than two weeks, and does not respond to simple treatment, may indicate a more serious condition. Upper abdominal pain that radiates to the jaw, neck, or arm is a medical emergency.
Diagnosis is made through patient history and physical examination. If the symptoms began suddenly, laboratory tests on blood, breath, and stool may be ordered. Upper endoscopy or abdominal x-ray may be done.
For functional dyspepsia – "ordinary" indigestion – treatment and prevention are the same. Eating five or six smaller meals per day with lighter, simpler food; managing stress; and finding alternatives for some medications will provide relief.
Top Symptoms: nausea, stomach bloating, dyspeptic symptoms, bloating after meals, vomiting
Symptoms that always occur with indigestion (dyspepsia): dyspeptic symptoms
Symptoms that never occur with indigestion (dyspepsia): vomiting (old) blood or passing tarry stools, rectal bleeding, bloody diarrhea, fever
Migraines are headaches of moderate to severe intensity, which happen when blood vessels in the brain swell up. They are episodic and thus can recur often. Most migraine sufferers experience increased sensitivity to sounds and/or lights and become nauseous and vomit.
Top Symptoms: headache, history of headaches, fatigue, nausea, mild headache
Symptoms that always occur with recurrent migraine: headache, history of headaches
Symptoms that never occur with recurrent migraine: fever, headache resulting from a head injury
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Viral (rotavirus) infection
Rotavirus infection is a contagious gastrointestinal virus that most often affects babies, toddlers, and young children. It causes severe watery diarrhea, sometimes with vomiting and fever.
Adults may also be infected, though usually with milder symptoms.
Rotavirus spreads very quickly when any trace of stool from an infected child contaminates food or drink, or gets onto any surface. If another child consumes the food or drink, or touches the surface and then their mouth, the child will become infected.
Rotavirus in adults does not usually need a trip to the ER unless the degree of dehydration is severe but dehydration can set in quickly in children and is a medical emergency. A child can die if not treated immediately. Take the child to an emergency room or call 9-1-1.
Treatment consists of drinking fluids or IV fluids in severe cases and supportive care, usually in a hospital. Antibiotics will not help rotavirus because they only work against bacteria.
The best way prevention is frequent and thorough handwashing, as well as washing toys and surfaces when possible. There is now a vaccine that will either prevent rotavirus infection or greatly lessen the symptoms if the child still gets the virus.
Rarity: Ultra rare
Top Symptoms: diarrhea, vomiting or nausea, nausea, fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), headache
Symptoms that always occur with viral (rotavirus) infection: diarrhea, vomiting or nausea
Symptoms that never occur with viral (rotavirus) infection: constipation, tarry stool
Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, is a condition that causes pain or discomfort in the stomach after eating. In some cases, indigestion also causes heartburn, burping, and nausea. Indigestion or dyspepsia is a very common complaint and in most cases there is no serious underlying cause. This is when doctors call it 'functional'.
Top Symptoms: stomach bloating, nausea, dyspeptic symptoms, bloating after meals, vomiting
Symptoms that always occur with functional dyspepsia/indigestion: dyspeptic symptoms
Symptoms that never occur with functional dyspepsia/indigestion: vomiting (old) blood or passing tarry stools, rectal bleeding, bloody diarrhea, fever
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Non-specific nausea and vomiting
Nausea and vomiting with no recognizable cause.
Top Symptoms: nausea, vomiting
Symptoms that always occur with non-specific nausea and vomiting: nausea, vomiting
Symptoms that never occur with non-specific nausea and vomiting: diarrhea, fever, headache
Morning sickness is the nausea and vomiting (throwing up) that many women have during pregnancy. Symptoms can be mild or severe. Even though it is called "morning" sickness, symptoms can happen any time of day.
Top Symptoms: nausea or vomiting
Symptoms that always occur with morning sickness: nausea or vomiting
Food poisoning by the staphylococcus bacteria
Food poisoning by staphylococcus bacteria refers to the stomach and intestinal upset caused by eating foods contaminated with the staphylococcus, or "staph," bacteria.
Most often, food is contaminated when the person preparing it did not thoroughly wash their hands first. The staph bacteria quickly multiply in food or milk, producing toxins which actually create the illness. The toxins are not destroyed by cooking and the food may look fresh.
Symptoms develop rapidly, within 30 minutes to a few hours, and include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramping, and diarrhea. The illness itself is not spread from person to person.
Diagnosis is made through patient history and physical examination. Lab tests are usually not necessary, but testing may be done if there is a large outbreak with many people affected in one place.
A food poisoning episode usually resolves on its own within 24 hours. Antibiotics are not effective against the toxins. The symptoms can be treated with rest, plenty of fluids, and electrolyte replacement with sports drinks. Severe cases may need intravenous fluids in a hospital.
Top Symptoms: nausea, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), vomiting
Symptoms that always occur with food poisoning by the staphylococcus bacteria: nausea or vomiting
Small bowel obstruction
The small bowel, or small intestine, is a long, coiled, tube-like structure that connects the stomach to the large intestine (the large bowel, or colon.) If the small bowel is blocked for any reason, food and liquid cannot pass through. This is a medical emergency.
There a number of possible causes. Scar tissue called adhesions can form after any abdominal surgery (including Caesarean section.) Inflammation from Crohn's disease or diverticulitis causes the intestinal wall to thicken and narrow. Hernias or tumors can also cause blockage.
Symptoms include inability to have a bowel movement or pass gas; abdominal cramping and swelling; loss of appetite; and vomiting.
If not treated, a small bowel obstruction can cut off the blood supply to the small intestine. This leads to tissue death, which can then tear and cause an infection in the abdominal cavity called peritonitis. Both of these are medical emergencies.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination, x-ray, CT scan, and/or ultrasound.
Once diagnosed, most patients are hospitalized. Surgery may be necessary to clear the obstruction.
Top Symptoms: abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, stomach bloating, being severely ill, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)
Symptoms that always occur with small bowel obstruction: being severely ill
Urgency: Hospital emergency room
Nausea Treatments and Relief
Even though nausea is common, there are times when being evaluated by a doctor can help prevent further complications. When trying to decide if you should schedule an appointment or possibly head to the emergency room, consider the following .
When to see a doctor for nausea
You should schedule an appointment if:
- Your nausea has come and gone for more than a month
- You have unexplained weight loss
- You've been vomiting for more than two days
When nausea is an emergency
Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room if:
- You're experiencing chest pain, severe abdominal pain, or you have an intense headache
- You're confused or having trouble seeing
- You have a high fever and stiff neck
- You have rectal bleeding
- You notice blood in your vomit
At-home treatments for nausea
Sometimes, you just have to let nausea run its course. But there are a few things you can do to lessen its intensity.
- Over-the-counter medication: Anti-nausea medication like Pepto-Bismol can help your stomach stop flipping.
- Ginger: Making a ginger drink and slowly sipping on it can have you feeling back to normal quite quickly.
- Vitamin B6: Taking a vitamin B6 supplement is a simple way to calm down the waves of nausea.
- Peppermint oil: Try diffusing peppermint oil while you relax or mix a few drops with some coconut oil and rub it directly beneath your nose. The calming sent should help your stomach relax.
- Lemon: When you're nauseous, certain smells and foods can send you over the edge. Citrus scents are easy on the stomach and can help dull your nauseous feelings.
The next time you feel your stomach performing a gymnastic routine, start trying to determine why. Then focus on treating the symptom before a good day quickly takes a turn for the worse.
FAQs About Nausea
Here are some frequently asked questions about nausea.
What does nausea mean?
Nausea is the feeling you get when you think you might throw up.
Can pain cause nausea?
Yes, intense pain can cause nausea, although the pain is usually caused by an injury or illness.
What can cause constant nausea?
Constant nausea, which we will define as sudden onset of non-relenting nausea (and not chronic nausea) can have many causes. The most common ones include problems with the stomach or intestines (e.g. obstrucion or motor dysfunction), food poisoning, dizziness or motion sickness, medicines, pregnancy, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), migraine headaches, and alcohol consumption .
What causes nausea and diarrhea?
Acute gastroenteritis is second only to the common cold as a cause of lost work or school productivity . Bacterial, viral, and parasitic pathogens cause this illness which is characterized by diarrhea and/or vomiting. Vomiting is especially common with infections caused by rotaviruses, enteric adenovirus, norovirus, and staphylococcus .
Why do I feel sick after I eat?
If nausea/vomiting occurs several hours after food consumption, it can indicate food poisoning, bowel obstruction or delayed emptying of the stomach/intestine (most commonly occurs after abdominal surgery). If it occurs soon after eating, common causes may include food poisoning, inflammation of the stomach lining (gastritis), ulcers, pregnancy, or eating disorder (bulimia).
Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Nausea
To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:
- Have you vomited?
- Any fever today or during the last week?
- Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
- Have you lost your appetite recently?
The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.
If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions
Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your nausea
Nausea Symptom Checker Statistics
People who have experienced nausea have also experienced:
- 10% Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache)
- 9% Headache
- 5% Fatigue
People who have experienced nausea were most often matched with:
- 60% Acid Reflux Disease (Gerd)
- 20% Viral (Norovirus) Infection
- 20% Indigestion (Dyspepsia)
People who have experienced nausea had symptoms persist for:
- 45% Less than a day
- 30% Less than a week
- 9% Over a month
Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).
Nausea Symptom Checker
Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your nausea
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- Nausea and Vomiting. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated April 30, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.
- Scorza K, Williams A, Phillips D, Shaw J. Evaluation of Nausea and Vomiting. American Family Physician. 2007;76(1):76-84. AAFP Link.
- Managing Nausea and Vomiting at Home. American Cancer Society. Updated February 13, 2017. American Cancer Society Link.
- Chronic Nausea Causes. Stanford Health Care. Stanford Health Care Link.
- Blacklow NR, Dolin R, Fedson DS, et al. Acute Infectious Nonbacterial Gastroenteritis: Etiology and Pathogenesis. Annals of Internal Medicine. 1972;76(6):993-1008. Annals Link.
Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.