Nausea and vomiting: causes, treatments, self care

Nausea and vomiting: causes, treatments, self care

Nausea is an unpleasant sensation of discomfort or unease in the stomach (queasy stomach), accompanied by an urge to vomit. Nausea often precedes vomiting.

Nausea is not a disease in itself,1 but rather a non-specific symptom, i.e. there are several possible causes, including motion sickness, stomach infection, migraine, certain odors, food poisoning, gallbladder disease, very intense pain, early pregnancy, indigestion, certain viruses, chemical toxins and emotional stress (fear).

You will also see introductions at the end of some sections to any recent developments that have been covered by's news stories. Also look out for links to information about related conditions.

Here are some key points about nausea. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.

  • There are over 700 causes of nausea.
  • Nausea and vomiting referred to as morning sickness affects more than half of all pregnancies.
  • Nausea is typically caused by problems in the brain and spinal fluid, pelvic and abdominal organs or the inner ear.
  • Psychological conditions such as anorexia nervosa can lead to nausea.
  • Although many cases of nausea resolve on their own, some may be a sign of an underlying disease.
  • Medications to treat nausea and vomiting are known as antiemetics.
  • Anti-nausea medications work better taken regularly rather than occasionally.
  • Nausea commonly occurs following a surgical procedure.

Causes of nausea and vomiting

Morning sickness affects over 50% of all pregnant women.

According to DiagnosisPro, there are over 700 causes of nausea,2 and those are just due to poisoning! This article focuses on the most common causes.

Morning sickness, also known as nausea gravidarum, refers to nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. We have a detailed article on morning sickness, which affects more than half of all pregnancies and we also have an article containing tips to minimize morning sickness.

Causes of nausea are nearly always due to problems in any of these three parts of the body: the brain and spinal fluid, the pelvic and abdominal organs, and the inner ear.4

Brain and spinal fluid

Many diseases and conditions related to the brain or spinal fluid have nausea as one of their many symptoms, including:

  • Migraine
  • Head trauma
  • Brain tumors
  • Stroke
  • Meningitis.

Nausea is a common symptom during an episode of migraine.

Pelvic and abdominal organs

The most common pelvic/abdominal diseases and conditions that have nausea as one of their symptoms are:

  • Hepatitis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Blocked/stretched stomach
  • Blocked/stretched intestine
  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux)
  • Stomach irritation
  • Irritation of the intestinal lining
  • Kidney disease
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Gastroenteritis - usually caused by a virus
  • Constipation
  • Menstruation.

Inner-ear problems

Patients with problems with their inner ear may experience nausea, as well as vertigo - a sensation of things moving around you or spinning. Inner-ear conditions include:

    It has been claimed that travel sickness affects 1 in every 3 people.

  • Motion sickness - examples include air sickness, car sickness, sea sickness, train sickness, feeling "whoozy" after funfair rides, and being an astronaut in zero gravity.

    During their adaptation to weightlessness, approximately half of all astronauts experience nausea caused by motion sickness,11 visual illusions and disorientation. It is known as space adaptation syndrome or space sickness.

    Although medications are available, NASA prefers the astronaut to wait it out for a couple of days.

  • Labyrinthitis - an inner-ear infection, usually caused by a virus. The patient's hearing and balance may be affected.
  • Benign positional vertigo - patients develop a sudden sensation of spinning, typically when moving their head. It is a common cause of vertigo.

Psychological causes of nausea

Several psychological factors can induce nausea. Some people find that they experience nausea just by watching somebody else vomiting.

Medical students may experience nausea, dizziness and even fainting when witnessing an autopsy for the first time.

An article in Harvard Health Publication explains that anxiety is a common cause of nausea,5 as well as light-headedness, diarrhea and frequent urination.

The following mental illnesses/conditions usually have nausea as one of their symptoms:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder (social phobia).

Nausea from anxiety and depression

A Norwegian study involving more than 62,000 people found that nausea, which affects about 12% of people in the community, is a common symptom of anxiety and depression.6

Tone Tangen Haug, M.D., Ph.D., of Haukeland University Hospital in Norway and team reported in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry that patients with anxiety and depression frequently present with gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and abdominal discomfort as their main problem when visiting the doctor.

The researchers wrote "Functional gastrointestinal disorders are strongly related to anxiety and depressive disorders with a lifetime prevalence of 80-90% in samples from clinics of gastroenterology."

Nausea and vomiting from cancer therapy

Nausea and vomiting, which are serious side effects of cancer therapy, need to be controlled to maintain both the patient's treatment and quality of life.8

Nausea and vomiting are common side effects of chemotherapy.

Uncontrolled nausea among cancer patients receiving therapy can cause loss of appetite, a torn esophagus, dehydration, malnutrition, broken bones, and reopening of surgical incisions.

The most common causes of nausea for cancer patients are:

  • Chemotherapy - how often and/or severe symptoms are depend on the type of drug used, its dosage, whether it is administered with other medications, how often it is given, how it is administered, and the individual patient.
  • Radiation therapy - especially therapy that targets the brain, liver or gastrointestinal tract. The likelihood of nausea increases as the radiation dosage rises.

Nausea may also be caused by a tumor blocking the bowel.

The following factors may increase a cancer patient's risk of developing nausea and vomiting:

  • Nausea and vomiting in previous chemotherapy sessions were severe and frequent
  • Female patients have a significantly higher risk of severe nausea during cancer treatment
  • The patient has constipation
  • He or she is taking certain medications, such as opioids
  • The patient is very anxious
  • There is an infection or blood poisoning
  • The patient has kidney disease
  • There is a fluid/electrolyte imbalance - too much blood calcium, dehydration, or excess fluid in body tissues

On the next page we look at when you should see your doctor, the available treatments and over-the-counter medications for nausea & vomiting, self care tips and alternative treatments such as acupuncture.

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Get Rid of Nausea in 30 Seconds (Self-Treatment Acupressure) - Dr Mandell (Video Medical And Professional 2020).

Section Issues On Medicine: Medical practice