What Is Nausea? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

By Paula Derrow

Medically Reviewed by Justin Laube, MD

Reviewed: December 16, 2020

Nausea is a symptom everyone dreads. You’ve almost certainly experienced that queasy feeling at one time or another — perhaps while reading a book in a moving vehicle, or maybe after eating something that didn’t agree with you.

Whatever the cause, “nausea” is a term that describes the uneasy feeling in your stomach that means you might have to vomit, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Though it’s not usually not serious, here’s what you need to know when you feel nauseated — and when you should see a doctor.

Signs and Symptoms of Nausea

Generally, when you are experiencing nausea, you feel sick to your stomach.

According to Stanford Health Care, other signs and symptoms of nausea include:

  • Weakness
  • Sweating
  • A buildup of saliva in your mouth
  • Urge to vomit

Causes and Risk Factors of Nausea

Two of the most common causes of nausea and vomiting are stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis) and food poisoning, according to Stanford Health Care.

Per the Cleveland Clinic, other common causes of nausea include:

  • Early stages of pregnancy (morning sickness)
  • Seasickness and other forms of motion sickness
  • Severe pain
  • Being exposed to chemical toxins
  • Emotional stress, such as fear
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Indigestion
  • Particular smells or odors

A number of medications can also cause nausea, according to the Mayo Clinic.

General anesthesia can also make you feel nauseated.

Risk Factors

If you are undergoing cancer treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy, you have an increased risk of nausea and vomiting, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

More than half of pregnant women also experience nausea.

How Is Nausea Diagnosed?

To determine what’s causing your nausea, your doctor will take your medical history, ask you about your symptoms, and conduct a physical exam, per MedlinePlus.

They will also look for signs of dehydration and may administer some tests, including blood, urine, and possibly a pregnancy test.

Prognosis of Nausea

In most cases, nausea isn’t serious and goes away in a day or two, says Stanford Health Care.

But nausea can be a symptom of many other conditions. In rare cases, it can be a sign of a serious or life-threatening health issue, per the Mayo Clinic.

Duration of Nausea

How long nausea lasts depends on the cause.

Nausea and vomiting from stomach flu will usually start to get better within 24 hours, according to Stanford Health Care.

Nausea and vomiting from food poisoning may take up to 48 hours to resolve.

Call your doctor if your nausea lasts for more than one week; you may also want to check for the possibility of pregnancy, suggests the Cleveland Clinic.

Call your doctor if vomiting occurs with your nausea for longer than one day.

Treatment and Medication Options for Nausea

Nausea can commonly be alleviated with self-care measures that are low risk yet have variable research evidence. Per the Mayo Clinic, the following tips can be helpful:

  • Get some rest. Being too active can make nausea worse.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink cold, clear, carbonated, or sour beverages, such as ginger ale, lemonade, and water, and try to take small sips. Mint tea may also help calm nausea. Oral rehydration solutions like Pedialyte can prevent dehydration.
  • Steer clear of strong odors. Food and cooking smells, perfume, and smoke can be triggers.
  • Avoid other triggers. Other nausea and vomiting triggers include stuffy rooms, heat, humidity, flickering lights, and driving.
  • Eat bland foods. If you’ve been vomiting, wait some time to eat solid foods until your body feels ready. When you think you can tolerate solids, start with foods like rice, crackers, toast, applesauce, and bananas, which are easy to digest. When you can keep these down without vomiting (if you’ve been vomiting or feel like you might), try cereal, rice, fruit, and salty or high-protein, high-carbohydrate foods.
  • Avoid fatty or spicy foods. These foods can make your nausea worse.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the following tips may also help control nausea:

  • Don’t combine hot and cold foods.
  • Drink beverages slowly.
  • Avoid brushing your teeth after you eat.

To stave off vomiting, you could try taking small sips of clear, carbonated beverages or fruit juices (except orange and grapefruit, which are too acidic) or suck on popsicles.

To avoid or reduce motion sickness in a car, sit facing the front windshield (watching fast movement out the side windows can make nausea worse).

Medication Options

If you have motion sickness, over-the-counter motion sickness medications can help improve symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic.

These include:

  • Dimenhydrinate (Dramamine)
  • Meclizine (Travel Sickness)

Other types of over-the-counter medications can help relieve other forms of nausea, per Harvard Health Publishing.

These include:

  • Chewable or liquid antacids
  • Bismuth sub-salicylate (Pepto-Bismol)
  • A solution of glucose, fructose, and phosphoric acid (Emetrol)

If these medications don’t help you feel better, a wide variety of prescription oral medications are also used for nausea, with various efficacy and side effects. Prescription motion sickness adhesive patches like scopolamine (Transderm Scop) may also be helpful for long trips, like a cruise.

Alternative and Complementary Therapies

An ancient Chinese practice known as acupressure traditionally has been used to help address mild nausea and morning sickness, per MedlinePlus.

This involves stimulating an acupressure or acupuncture point called P6. Using your middle and index fingers, firmly press down on the groove between the two large tendons on the inside of your wrist, three finger widths below the base of your palm. You can also purchase over-the-counter wristbands that work on the same pressure points, such as Sea-Band.

If your nausea is due to chemotherapy for cancer, acupuncture may be helpful.

Additionally, other therapies for acute to more chronic nausea with a varying amount of research evaluation include aromatherapy, hypnotherapy, ginger, and cannabis.


There are many potential home remedies, tips, and tricks to prevent nausea that are safe yet have limited research support, according to the Cleveland Clinic. These include:

  • Have smaller meals more often throughout the day instead of three large meals
  • Eat slowly
  • Avoid foods that are difficult to digest
  • Eat foods that are cold or at room temperature
  • Rest after you eat and keep your head elevated about 12 inches above your feet
  • If you feel nauseated when you wake up, eat a few crackers before you get out of bed or have a high-protein snack (lean meat or cheese) before bedtime
  • Avoid excessive drinking of liquids during meals
  • Drink at least six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day to prevent dehydration
  • Wait to eat until you’re feeling less nauseated

Complications of Nausea

If your nausea leads to or is accompanied by vomiting, you may become dehydrated, notes the Cleveland Clinic.

Children have a greater risk of becoming dehydrated, particularly when vomiting occurs with diarrhea, because they may not notice or be able to tell an adult that they are experiencing symptoms of dehydration, such as being thirsty. If you’re caring for a sick child, be on the lookout for these signs of dehydration:

  • Dry mouth and lips
  • Sunken eyes
  • Rapid breathing or pulse
  • In infants, less frequent urination and a sunken fontanel (soft spot on top of the baby’s head)

If you experience the following symptoms along with nausea, call your doctor immediately:

  • Blood in vomit
  • Intense headache or stiff neck
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Reduced alertness
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Vomiting with fever over 101 degrees F
  • Vomiting and diarrhea both occurring
  • Rapid breathing or pulse
  • Light-headedness

Research and Statistics: Who Has Nausea?

Anyone can experience nausea at any age, including children.

About 50 to 90 percent of pregnant women experience nausea while pregnant, says the Cleveland Clinic.

Related Conditions and Causes of Nausea

Nausea and vomiting are not diseases, and they often resolve on their own, but they can be symptoms of a number of diseases that vary in severity. According to an article published in American Family Physician, these include, but are not limited to:

  • GERD (reflux) and ulcers
  • Blocked intestine
  • Concussion or brain injury
  • Appendicitis
  • Migraine
  • Encephalitis
  • Meningitis
  • Other infections
  • Metabolic conditions
  • Sometimes, nausea and vomiting can be a sign of a more serious problem such as a heart attack; kidney or liver disorders; central nervous system disorders; brain tumors; and some types of cancer, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Resources We Love

Cleveland Clinic

Cleveland Clinic, a nonprofit academic medical center, is one of the largest and most respected hospitals in the United States and a leader in research, education, and health information. Their website offers information about the causes and treatment of nausea.

Mayo Clinic

The Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit organization that specializes in clinical practice, education, and research. Its website offers information about the causes and treatment of nausea.


MedlinePlus is a service of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), the world’s largest medical library, which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It offers information about the causes and treatment and nausea.

Original Article – https://www.everydayhealth.com/nausea/guide/


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