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Nausea and Vomiting Everything You Should Know

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

Nausea and Vomiting Everything You Should Know

Nausea is stomach discomfort and the sensation of wanting to vomit. Nausea can be a precursor to vomiting the contents of the stomach. The condition has many causes and can often be prevented.

Nausea is an uneasiness of the stomach that often comes before vomiting. Vomiting is the forcible voluntary or involuntary emptying (“throwing up”) of stomach contents through the mouth.

Nausea is the sensation of an urge to vomit. Nausea can be acute and short-lived, or it can be prolonged. When prolonged, it is a debilitating symptom. Nausea (and vomiting) can be psychological or physical in origin. It can originate from problems in the brain or organs of the upper gastrointestinal tract (esophagus, stomach, small intestine, liver, pancreas, and gallbladder). Nausea also may be caused by diseases of many organs outside of the gastrointestinal system. Therefore, the diagnosis of the cause of prolonged nausea may not be easy. All stimuli that cause nausea work via the vomiting center in the brain, which gives rise to the sensation of nausea and coordinates the physical act of vomiting.

What Is Nausea?

Nausea is a very common symptom that people often describe as a feeling of queasiness or wooziness, or a need to vomit. Nausea accompanies a wide variety of mild to serious infections, diseases, conditions, and injuries. It occurs in all age groups and populations.

Nausea symptoms can be short-term and disappear quickly, as in the case of indigestion. But symptoms can also be long-lasting or recur over a period of days, weeks, and months, such as nausea induced by migraine, cancer, pancreatitis, certain medications, or body trauma.

Nausea occurs with other symptoms affecting the digestive system as well as other body systems.

Nausea associated with head injury, bloody stools, or vomiting of blood can be a symptom of a serious, potentially life-threatening condition and should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting.

Nausea Symptoms and Signs

Nausea is a feeling of unease that frequently includes

  • an upset stomach,
  • dizziness, and
  • anxiety.

There is often an urge to vomit. This sensation often feels as if it comes from the stomach, but it is mostly controlled by the brain.

  • Vomiting, however, frequently improves the sensation of nausea, at least temporarily.
  • Vomiting occurs when the stomach forcefully expels its contents out of the mouth.
  • When vomiting continues after all the food and liquid has been forced out, it is called the dry heaves.
  • When vomiting leads to dehydration from loss of fluids, the affected person may have increased thirst, dry lips, and dry mouth.
  • The person may not urinate often or urine will be darker in color.
  • In children, signs of dehydration include dry lips and mouth, sunken eyes, rapid breathing, lethargy, and dry diaper, indicating the child is not producing urine.

What Are Other Symptoms and Signs Related to Nausea?

  • Vomiting
  • Stomach Cramps
  • Abdominal Pain

What Causes Nausea or Vomiting?

The causes of nausea and vomiting are quite similar. Many things can bring on nausea. Some common causes are:

  • Seasickness and other motion sicknesses
  • Early pregnancy
  • Intense pain
  • Exposure to chemical toxins
  • Emotional stress (fear)
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Food poisoning
  • Indigestion
  • Various viruses
  • Certain smells or odors
  • Motion sickness or seasickness
  • Early stages of pregnancy (nausea occurs in approximately 50%-90% of all pregnancies; vomiting in 25%-55%)
  • Medication-induced vomiting
  • Intense pain
  • Emotional stress (such as fear)
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Food poisoning
  • Infections (such as the “stomach flu”)
  • Overeating
  • A reaction to certain smells or odors
  • Heart attack
  • Concussion or brain injury
  • Brain tumor
  • Ulcers
  • Some forms of cancer
  • Bulimia or other psychological illnesses
  • Gastroparesis or slow stomach emptying (a condition that can be seen in people with diabetes)
  • Ingestion of toxins or excessive amounts of alcohol
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Appendicitis

The causes of vomiting differ according to age. For adults, vomiting is commonly a result of a viral infection and food poisoning, and occasionally a result of motion sickness and illnesses in which the person has a high fever. For children, it is common for vomiting to occur because of a viral infection, food poisoning, motion sickness, overeating or feeding, coughing, and illnesses in which the child has a high fever. Although rare, blocked intestines can cause vomiting, most typically in early infancy.

Usually vomiting is harmless, but it can be a sign of a more serious illness. Some examples of serious conditions that may bring on nausea or vomiting include:

  • Concussions
  • Encephalitis
  • Meningitis
  • Intestinal blockage
  • Appendicitis
  • Migraine headaches
  • Brain tumors

Another concern with vomiting is dehydration. Adults have a lower risk of becoming dehydrated because they can usually detect the symptoms of dehydration (such as increased thirst and dry lips or mouth). Children have a greater risk of becoming dehydrated, especially if the vomiting occurs with diarrhea, because young children may often be unable to tell an adult about symptoms of dehydration. Adults caring for sick children need to be aware of these visible signs of dehydration:

  • Dry lips and mouth
  • Sunken eyes
  • Rapid breathing or pulse

In infants, parents should look for decreased urination, and a sunken fontanelle (soft spot on top of the baby’s head).

Is Vomiting Harmful?

Usually, vomiting is harmless, but it can be a sign of a more serious illness. Some examples of serious conditions that may result in nausea or vomiting include concussions, meningitis (infection of the membrane linings of the brain), intestinal blockage, appendicitis, and brain tumors.

Another concern is dehydration. Adults have a lower risk of becoming dehydrated, because they can usually detect the symptoms of dehydration (such as increased thirst and dry lips or mouth). But young children have a greater risk of becoming dehydrated, especially if they also have diarrhea, because they often are unable to communicate symptoms of dehydration. Adults caring for sick children need to be aware of these visible signs of dehydration: dry lips and mouth, sunken eyes, and rapid breathing or pulse. In infants, also watch for decreased urination and a sunken fontanelle (soft spot on top of the baby’s head).

Recurrent vomiting in pregnancy can lead to a serious condition called hyperemesis gravidarum in which the mother may develop fluid and mineral imbalances that can endanger their life or that of their unborn child.

Rarely, excessive vomiting can tear the lining of the esophagus, also known as a Mallory-Weiss tear. If the esophagus is ruptured, this is called Boerhaave’s syndrome, and is a medical emergency.

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

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:right up arrow

  • 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
  • Drink beverages that settle the stomach, such as ginger ale or chamomile tea.
  • Avoid caffeinated colas, coffees and teas.
  • Drink clear liquids to avoid dehydration (if vomiting is associated with nausea).
  • Eat small, frequent meals to allow the stomach to digest foods gradually.
  • Eat foods that are bland and simple for your stomach to digest, such as crackers or unbuttered bread, rice, chicken soup and bananas.

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).

How Is Vomiting Treated?

Treatment for vomiting (regardless of age or cause) includes:

  • Drinking gradually larger amounts of clear liquids
  • Avoiding solid food until the vomiting episode has passed
  • If vomiting and diarrhea last more than 24 hours, an oral rehydrating solution such as Pedialyte should be used to prevent and treat dehydration.
  • Pregnant women experiencing morning sickness can eat some crackers before getting out of bed or eat a high protein snack before going to bed (lean meat or cheese).
  • Vomiting associated with cancer treatments can often be treated with another type of drug therapy. There are also prescription and nonprescription drugs that can be used to control vomiting associated with pregnancy, motion sickness, and some forms of dizziness. However, consult with a doctor before using any of these treatments.

When to Call the Doctor

The timing of the nausea or vomiting can indicate the cause. When it appears shortly after a meal, nausea or vomiting may indicate a mental disorder or a peptic ulcer. Nausea or vomiting one to eight hours after a meal may indicate food poisoning. Foodborne diseases, such as Salmonella, may take longer to produce symptoms because of the incubation time.

A person who is experiencing nausea should consult a physician if it lasts more than one week, and if there is a possibility of pregnancy. Vomiting usually lessens within six to 24 hours, and may be treated at home.

You should see your doctor if home treatment is not working, dehydration is present, or a known injury (such as head injury or infection) is causing the vomiting.

Take your infant or a child under 6 years old to the doctor if:

  • Vomiting lasts more than a few hours
  • Diarrhea is also present
  • Signs of dehydration occur
  • There is a fever higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit
  • The child hasn’t urinated for six hours

Take your child over 6 years old to the doctor if:

  • Vomiting lasts one day
  • Diarrhea combined with vomiting lasts for more than 24 hours
  • There are signs of dehydration
  • There is a fever higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit
  • The child hasn’t urinated for six hours

Adults should consult a doctor if vomiting occurs for more than one day, if diarrhea and vomiting last more than 24 hours, and if there are signs of moderate dehydration.

You should see a doctor immediately if the following signs or symptoms occur:

  • Blood in the vomit (“coffee grounds” appearance)
  • Severe headache or stiff neck
  • Lethargy
  • Confusion
  • Decreased alertness
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Vomiting with fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Vomiting and diarrhea are both present
  • Rapid breathing or pulse

How Is Nausea Prevented?

Avoiding nausea triggers can help to prevent nausea’s onset. This includes avoiding:

  • flickering lights, which can trigger migraine attacks
  • heat and humidity
  • sea voyages
  • strong odors, such as perfume and cooking smells

Taking an anti-nausea medication (scopolamine) before a journey can also prevent motion sickness.

Changes to your eating habits, such as eating small, frequent meals, can help to reduce nausea symptoms. Avoiding intense physical activity after meals can also minimize nausea. Avoiding spicy, high-fat, or greasy foods can also help.

Examples of foods that are less likely to cause nausea include cereal, crackers, toast, gelatin, and broth.

Read more Nausea Diet The Best Foods to Eat

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