Several conditions can cause nausea, including stress, anxiety, infections, motion sickness, and more. Occasional temporary nausea is also common, but is usually nothing to worry about. Nausea is a feeling that makes a person feel like they need to vomit.
Sometimes nauseous people vomit, but not always. In this article, we explore what triggers nausea, including a list of 12 common causes.
What can cause nausea?
There are many triggers for nausea. Some common causes include: stress or anxiety, the flu or a norovirus (stomach flu) gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) certain medications, such as hormonal contraceptives or beta-blockers, problems with the ear internal, such as labyrinthitis or vestibular neuritisthyroid disorders
Here are some of the most common causes of nausea in more detail.
1 Digestive disorders
A range of digestive disorders can induce nausea, such as:
– Gastritis: Acid or a bacteria called H. pylori often causes inflammation of the stomach, which can lead to stomach ulcers.
– Gastroparesis: With this condition, the stomach empties much more slowly than it should. Certain medications or nerve damage usually cause this, which is common in people with diabetes.
– Gastroesophageal reflux disease: Triggers chronic acid reflux and indigestion.
– IBS: Causes stomach cramps, as well as diarrhea or constipation.
– Celiac disease: An autoimmune disease that causes symptoms in response to gluten.
– Gallbladder: due to gallstones.
– Pancreas: pancreatitis.
Generally, nausea is not the only symptom of chronic digestive disorders. A person may also experience:
– abdominal bloating
– gas or belching
– heartburn or indigestion
– diarrhea, constipation, or both
– abdominal pain and cramps
– reactions or intolerance to specific foods or food groups
The diagnosis and treatment of digestive disorders vary depending on the cause. They can involve a combination of medications, dietary or lifestyle changes, or in some cases, medical procedures.
2 Mental health issues: stress, panic
Mental health and digestive health are closely linked. People with mental disorders may experience digestive symptoms, including nausea. Similarly, stress can also exacerbate digestive conditions.
People who often feel stressed, anxious, or panicky may have an anxiety disorder. Symptoms of anxiety include:
– rapid heartbeat
– rapid or shallow breathing
– feeling of choking in the throat
– tense muscles
Severe anxiety can also trigger panic attacks, or in some cases, fainting. For example, people who are afraid of needles or blood may experience nausea, dizziness, and loss of consciousness. This is called vasovagal syncope.
3 Inner ear disorders
The vestibular system resides in the inner ear, helping the body maintain a sense of balance and know where it is in relation to its surroundings. Problems with this system can cause dizziness or lightheadedness, which in turn causes nausea.
Conditions that can cause this include:
– Motion sickness: Occurs in response to conflicting motion signals sent to the brain. Getting into cars, planes, or boats often triggers this.
– Labyrinthitis: Inner ear infection that can occur following a cold or flu.
– Vestibular neuritis: Occurs when the nerve inside the inner ear becomes inflamed.
– Ménière: Causes sudden episodes of dizziness, which can be severe.
Treatment for inner ear disorders can vary depending on the cause and the individual. People with an ear infection may find symptoms improve on their own over time, while over-the-counter travel sickness medication may be enough to relieve occasional motion sickness.
4 Hormonal changes
Changes in hormone levels, such as those caused by pregnancy, hormonal birth control, or endocrine disorders, can also cause nausea.
Nausea is a common symptom during pregnancy. It is often known as morning sickness, although it can occur at any time. It can also develop suddenly or gradually. Pregnant women may experience nausea when they are around certain foods or smells, or when they are hungry. In general, morning sickness improves after 14 weeks.
5 Thyroid disorders
The thyroid gland controls the hormones that regulate the body’s metabolism. Overactive or underactive thyroid can cause nausea. Symptoms of an overactive thyroid or hyperthyroidism include:
– fatigue or muscle weakness
– heat intolerance
– difficulty sleeping
– trembling hands
– rapid heartbeat
– frequent bowel movements
– weight loss and difficulty gaining weight
6 Neurological conditions
There are many ways changes in the brain and nervous system can cause nausea. Scientists do not yet fully understand them. One of the most common neurological conditions that trigger nausea is migraine. This is a disorder that causes bouts of moderate to severe headache, along with other symptoms, including:
– sensitivity to light or sound
– aura, which are neurological changes that some people experience before pain develops
There are several treatments for migraine. For occasional or less severe episodes, people may find taking over-the-counter pain medication and avoiding triggers is enough. For severe or frequent migraines, a person may need preventative medications or other therapies.
7 Side effect of drugs
Nausea is a common side effect of many medications, including:
– Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin or ibuprofen
– certain supplements, such as iron
Drugs work by changing chemical processes in the brain and body. For example, neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine, can impact nausea and vomiting. So drugs that act on these chemicals can make these symptoms worse or better.
Medication-related nausea and vomiting may be constant or occur at random intervals. It usually starts shortly after taking a new medication. Talk to a doctor if the medications could cause nausea.
How to Relieve Nausea
What helps people manage nausea can vary depending on the cause. To relieve general nausea, you can try these avenues:
– to take some fresh air
– eat small, frequent meals
– stay hydrated by sipping cold drinks, such as water or juice
– drink ginger or peppermint tea
– eat foods that contain ginger
– avoid spicy, fragrant or fatty foods
People who experience nausea from stress or anxiety may also find breathing techniques, relaxation, or mindfulness exercises helpful.
When to talk to a doctor
While home remedies can ease the feeling of nausea, they are not a replacement for medical treatment for those with underlying conditions.
If a person experiences nausea frequently for no clear reason, they may consider talking to a doctor to determine the cause. If the cause is psychological, talking with a therapist can help.
Nausea is usually not an emergency. However, if it occurs alongside symptoms of a serious illness or after an injury, someone may need emergency help. Dial 911 if someone is feeling nauseous:
after a recent head injury
next to a severe and sudden headache
with stiff neck, fever, headache and vomiting
In some cases, nausea can be a warning sign of a heart attack. This is more common in women, who may experience less obvious symptoms during a heart attack. Seek emergency help if someone has:
pain, pressure, or compression in the center of the chest
pain in one or both arms, back, neck, or jaw
a cold sweat
There are many potential causes of nausea. In most cases, this is not a sign of a serious illness. Many conditions that trigger nausea are treatable or temporary. Talk to a doctor about chronic or recurring nausea, as there may be ways to reduce this symptom and improve quality of life.
Collantes, MEV, et al. (2021). Neurological manifestations in COVID-19 infection: A systematic review and meta-analysis [Abstract].
Diarrhea and vomiting. (2020).
Evans, TH, et al. (2012). Chronic vestibular dysfunction as an unappreciated cause of chronic nausea and vomiting.
Feeling sick (nausea). (2018).
Jeanmonod. R., et al. (2020). Vasovagalepisode.
Morning sickness: Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. (2020).
Singh, P., et al. (2016). Nausea: A review of pathophysiology and therapeutics.