Nausea: 7 Common Causes & How to Stop It

Updated in February 2022

Nausea is a symptom that is characterized by a need to vomit. It can occur for many reasons, like due to pregnancy, from medication use or as a side-effect of chemotherapy. 

Some health conditions can also cause nausea, like labirynthitis, gastroesophageal reflux, anxiety, or a food intolerance. Treatment of this symptoms will depend on the underlying cause and the doctor’s recommendation. You should seek medical attention immediately if your nausea is associated with other symptoms, like bleeding from the mouth and fever. 

The most common causes of nausea are:

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1. Pregnancy

Many hormonal changes occur during pregnancy, like the increases of human chorionic gonadotropin (also known as hCG), estrogen and progesterone. These hormones stimulate changes in the body, like increased breast size, but they also cause adverse effects like an aversion to strong smells, dizziness and nausea. 

Nausea caused by pregnancy mainly occurs between the 7th and 10th weeks, however it can last for longer. In some women, they may feel nausea right up to the end of their pregnancy.

How to stop it: To improve symptoms of nausea during pregnancy, it is important to avoid an empty stomach. You should not fast for extended periods of time, and you should opt for meals that are lighter and less fatty. Another tip is to avoid drinking any liquids in the first 2 hours after waking.  

If nausea is constant and leads to frequent vomiting, you should see your doctor or obstetrician to prescribe antiemetic medications that are safe for pregnancy. Learn about some natural ways to get rid of nausea during pregnancy.

2. Labyrinthitis

Labyrinthitis is an inflammation that occurs in the labyrinth. a structure in the inner ear. It can occur due to viral, bacterial or fungal infections or due to injury in the ear. This condition can also be triggered by eating certain types of foods, or by taking boat or plane trips. Common symptoms include nausea, dizziness and ringing in the ear.  

Diagnosis for labyrinthitis is confirmed by a doctor by evaluating the patient’s health history and physically examining the inner ear. The doctor may also perform an audiometry exam. 

How to stop it: Treatment for labyrinthitis is prescribed by the doctor and usually involves a prescription for antiemetics to alleviate nausea and dizziness. The doctor may recommend some diet changes, like avoiding food that promotes inflammation and dizziness, like sugar and alcohol. 

3. Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD) 

GERD is a condition that happens when stomach content backs up into the esophagus toward the mouth. It causes symptoms like nausea, burning in the throat or stomach, a dry cough or chest pain. Learn more about the symptoms of GERD and what can cause it. 

This type of reflux can occur because the sphincter that blocks stomach content from the esophagus is unable to close properly. This can happen when a person has a hiatal hernia, for example. To diagnose GERD, you should see a doctor to order exams like an endoscopy and pH testing.

How to stop it: After confirming diagnosis, the doctor may recommend treatment with different types of medication, like on that decreases stomach acid production, one that improves esophageal flow and one that accelerates stomach emptying. You should also avoid consuming drinks that are spicy or high in caffeine. 

4. Migraines

A migraine is a type of headache that is often frequent and worsens with stress, with decreased food intake, or with strong lights or odors. In addition to headaches, which may be pulsating, migraines are also associated with nausea, vomiting, dizziness and light sensitivity. Learn more about the other symptoms associated with migraines. 

This condition mainly affects women, and although the causes are not well known, it may occur due to changes in blood flow within the brain.

How to stop it: When nausea and other migraine symptoms are constant and last for longer than 72 hours, you should see your doctor for treatment. They may prescribe analgesics to relieve the pain, or migraine-specific medication like zolmitriptan. Migraine flare-ups may also be reduced with health eating habits and avoiding heavy meals. Acupuncture has also been known to help. 

5. Anxiety

Anxiety is characterized by excessive over-worrying over situations that have not happened and by an exaggerated fear of a negative event occurring. This feeling causes physical symptoms like increase heart rate, fatigue, nausea and even muscular pain. Learn more about what can cause anxiety and how symptoms present during an anxiety attack. 

How to stop it: To improve the nausea and anxiety symptoms, you should incorporate different lifestyle changes into your daily routine, like exercise, relaxation techniques and meditation and aromatherapy. There are also some medicinal plants that can help with stress and anxiety naturally.  If your anxiety continues even with these changes and you continue to have nausea or other symptoms, you should seek professional help from a psychologist. Psychotherapy is necessary to help cope with anxiety, however more severe cases may require the use of anxiolytic medication. 

6. Medication use

Some medications can lead to the emergence of nausea, like continued use of antidepressants such as sertraline and fluoxetine. Corticosteroids, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories may also increase stomach acid production which can cause nausea. 

Medications used in chemotherapy and radiation therapy for the treatment of cancer may also cause nausea, which is why the doctor may prescribe anti-emetics preemptively. 

How to stop it: If your medications are causing nausea, you should see your prescriber and inform them. Do not stop your treatment right away, as nausea caused by some medications, like antidepressants, will decrease overtime as your body gets used to them. Check out the natural remedies you can try to complement your current treatment. 

7. Food intolerance 

A food intolerance is a condition that occurs when your body reacts to certain types of food, causing physical symptoms. Symptoms can include nausea, diarrhea, bloating and a stomach ache. This condition is different from a food allergy, as food allergies will often cause sudden reactions, like coughing, redness and itchiness. 

Some people may develop an intolerance to lactose, which is a sugar present in cow milk and is commonly found in many types of food. 

How to stop it: If you notice you have nausea after eating or drinking a specific type of food, you should see a gastroenterologist to confirm a diagnosis. This can be done with a blood test or an elimination diet. Treatment for a food intolerance is mainly the removal of the triggering food from the diet or with the use of enzymes, like lactase, which can help the body breakdown and absorb lactose. 

When to see the doctor 

Generally, nausea is not a sign of a serious illness, however you should see your doctor if you also experience the following symptoms: 

  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Excessive vomiting 
  • Fever
  • Weakness;
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

These symptoms can indicate a more serious health problem, like stomach or heart changes, and therefore you should seek medical attention as quickly as possible.