What is nausea?
Nausea is the feeling you get when you think you are going to vomit. It's not usually a sign of anything serious, and there are steps you can take to help you feel better.
Nausea isn’t an illness, but a symptom, or something you feel. It often comes before you vomit (when you throw up the contents of your stomach through your mouth). You might also experience dry retching (heaving as if you were going to vomit, but with nothing leaving your stomach).
What causes nausea?
If you suddenly feel nauseous after you’ve eaten, it could be caused by gastritis (an inflammation of the lining of the stomach), an ulcer or many other problems. If the nausea comes on 1 to 8 hours after you’ve eaten, it could be due to food poisoning. Sometimes food poisoning can take even longer to make you feel nauseous.
Most pregnant women will experience nausea during the first trimester (first 12 weeks) of their pregnancy, and sometimes after this in the pregnancy.
It is common to feel nauseous if you are in intense pain, have a head injury, or you are experiencing a lot of emotional stress.
Other causes of nausea are:
- a migraine
- motion sickness
- some medicines
- drinking too much alcohol
- a blockage in the bowel
- treatment for cancer
- an inflamed gallbladder
- some infections, including COVID-19
Children usually get nausea due to a virus, food poisoning, an allergy or food intolerance, motion sickness, eating or coughing too much, or when they have a fever.
When should I see my doctor?
See your doctor if your nausea doesn’t go away, or if you need help managing nausea when you are pregnant.
Nausea can sometimes be a symptom of something more serious, such as heart problems or an ulcer. Seek urgent medical attention if you also have symptoms such as chest pain, confusion, a high fever, a stiff neck, blurred vision, severe pain in your stomach or a severe headache.
Often nausea is accompanied by vomiting. See a doctor if you vomit consistently for more than 2 days (24 hours for children under 2 or 12 hours for infants), or if you vomit a lot for more than 1 month.
If you are vomiting, it’s important to avoid dehydration so try to keep taking sips of water.
How is nausea treated?
The best thing to do if you feel nauseous is take small sips of water or herbal tea. Sipping cold or frozen drinks may help to relieve the symptoms. Sometimes nibbling on some ginger or dry cracker biscuits can help you feel better.
Try not to skip meals, as an empty stomach can make the nausea worse. Eat small amounts more often. Some foods you may be able to manage include foods at room temperature, like sandwiches, puddings, noodles or biscuits, and salty foods like clear soup or potato crisps. Avoid fatty, spicy or very sweet foods as these can make the nausea worse.
Your doctor may prescribe medicine such as an antihistamine or an antiemetic (medicine to stop you vomiting). If you are pregnant, they will choose a medicine that is safe for your baby.
Can nausea be prevented?
If you feel nauseous often, it’s best to avoid things that bring on the nausea, such as strong smells or fatty or spicy foods. Try to eat at times when you don’t feel nauseous and avoid having an empty stomach. Eat small meals and then rest with your head elevated while you’re digesting your food.
It’s important to keep drinking fluids since becoming dehydrated will make you feel even more nauseous. Take small sips frequently and try to eat and drink at separate times.
Rest as much as you can, and avoid standing up or getting out of bed too quickly.
You can buy medicine from a chemist to prevent motion sickness. It’s also a good idea to travel facing forward and avoid reading or watching a screen when you’re in a car. If you are on a ship at sea, it may help to look at the horizon.
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Last reviewed: March 2021