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Nausea is a queasy sensation accompanied by the tendency to vomit that most people have experienced time and again.
Vomiting, or the involuntary expulsion of stomach contents, is preceded by a disagreeable painless sensation that is termed as “nausea.”
When a pathogen or a toxic element enters your body, it springs into defend mode to combat the incoming threat.
Nausea and subsequent vomiting is your body’s way of expelling these undesired agents out of your system, along with the rest of the stomach contents.
Nausea can make you feel uneasy, sweaty, and hot, although it may or may not necessarily result in an episode of vomiting.
Causes of Nausea
Nausea is not an illness per se but a symptom of a wide range of health problems. Nausea can be caused by various reasons such as:
- Excessive consumption of alcohol on a daily basis
- Inadequate sleep
- Medications for cardiovascular diseases
- Cancer chemotherapy
- Anesthetic agents
- Bowel obstruction
- Patients with brain problems
- Motion sickness
- Using oral contraceptives
- Menstrual cycles and pregnancy
- Postoperative periods
- Certain medications on an empty stomach
- Gastrointestinal discomforts such as acid reflux and GERD, nonulcerous dyspepsia, heartburn, gall bladder infections, hepatitis, and diverticulitis
- Infections such as food poisoning, pneumonia, ear infections, meningitis, and kidney and bladder infections
Signs That You Are Nauseated
Symptoms associated with nausea include:
- Urge to vomit
- Increased sweating
- Repeated involuntary contractions in the gastrointestinal muscles
- Increased salivation
- Feeling restless
- Feeling of fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Pain in the abdomen
Medical Treatment for Nausea
Although nausea can be easily diagnosed because of its associated symptoms, persistent chronic nausea calls for urgent medical intervention to reveal the underlying health problem.
Nausea does not always require treatment, but sometimes, treatment is helpful. The treatment would differ according to the cause and severity of the condition: (10)
- Antiemetic drugs can help reduce nausea that would precede vomiting. Mild to moderate nausea can be treated with bismuth subsalicylate, prochlorperazine, or metoclopramide. These medications must not be given to children below 12 years or individuals suffering from chickenpox and flu.
- Antihistamines, scopolamine patches, or both may be prescribed for motion sickness-induced nausea.
- Since severe nausea can lead to vomiting induced dehydration, it is advised to keep fluid balance by taking oral rehydration solution and ensuring adequate water intake. Serious cases can be managed with IV fluid therapy (0.9% saline 1 L or 20 mL/kg in children).
Home Remedies and Self-Care Tips for Nausea
There are several relief options to help you during a bout of nausea:
1. Practice Self-Care
- Take enough rest.
- Wear loose clothes.
- Sit in an upright position after having a meal. Avoid lying on a prostrate position within 30–60 minutes after eating.
- Do not sit in stuffy areas. Make sure to sit in places with plenty of air circulation.
- The best dietary approach is following the BRAT diet, which includes bland foods such as:
- Applesauce with no added sugar
- Plain pasta
- Bland potatoes
- Dry crackers
- Unbuttered bread
- Chicken soup
- When you are grappling with nausea, sour or tangy foods may be easier to the stomach (unless you have sores in your mouth).
- Avoid extremely sweet foods and instead choose salty foods. Also, keep away from spicy foods, dairy products, and foods loaded with fats.
- Clear, cool beverages are recommended. Take whatever you feel you can tolerate. Examples include clear soups, carbonated beverages, and ice cubes made of frozen drinks.
(Note: When drinking with a straw, sip slowly to avoid swallowing air that can cause gas.)
- Drink beverages that settle the stomach, such as ginger ale or chamomile tea.
- Keep yourself distracted with music, TV, or other sources of recreation during a bout of nausea.
- Sometimes, the smell of certain foods, especially fatty foods, can trigger nausea. If such is the case, bland foods may come to your rescue. Some perfumes may also trigger your nausea, avoid them.
- Smaller portions of foods that are low in fat seem to work best. These foods are easy to digest and move through the stomach fast. If you are eating smaller portions of low-fat foods, be sure to eat more often to meet your calorie and protein needs.
- Refrain from eating heavy meals before or during travel.
- If your nausea seems to cause vomiting, take your prescribed medications, and relax while it works.
- If chemotherapy or any medication is the reason behind your nausea, it is advised that you consult your doctor to look for better alternatives. Also, if you are undergoing chemotherapy, avoid drinking caffeinated drinks.
2. Consume Ginger
Ginger is one of the remedies that may help alleviate the discomfort experienced in nausea.
The bioactive components present in the ginger root called gingerols and shogaols are believed to be the reason behind the antiemetic action of ginger.
Ginger is known to be an effective natural treatment to reduce pregnancy-related nausea. (1)
A 2014 study published in the Nursing and Midwifery Studies highlighted that consuming ginger before the 16th week of pregnancy helped relieve nausea and vomiting. (2)
A systematic review of 12 randomized control trials including 1278 pregnant women found that ginger can be a possible alternative to reduce the symptoms of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy without posing a risk of heartburn or miscarriage. (3)
Another systematic review published in 2014 corroborated the view that using ginger is associated with improvements in nausea and vomiting experienced during early pregnancy. (4)
Results of a 2018 meta-analysis supported the efficacy of ginger in regulating the feeling of nausea experienced by individuals undergoing chemotherapy. (5)
More research is required with a larger sample to size to help determine the positive effects of ginger on chemotherapy-induced nausea.
You can add ginger to your beverages, soups, and dishes to get relief from nausea.
Multiple studies have backed the use of ginger in treating nausea and vomiting. However, additional scientific research is required to ascertain a set dosage of ginger as a remedy to relieve nausea.
3. Try Peppermint Aromatherapy
Peppermint may help deal with nausea by relaxing the lining of the stomach. Peppermint’s antispasmodic properties may also help prevent stomach cramps.
A 2018 study conducted on pregnant women suggested that both placebo and peppermint intervention decreased the severity of nausea and vomiting in pregnant women. (10)
The similar effects have been attributed to the psychological impact of the intervention in both the placebo and peppermint-treated groups. (10)
Another 2012 review that included four clinical studies indicated that peppermint aromatherapy is beneficial in improving nausea induced by pregnancy, postoperation, and chemotherapy. (13)
However, the study calls for further research to eliminate the shortcomings of the present research such as a smaller sample size, inaccurate tools for measurement, dosage, and method of peppermint use, and an unsuitable placebo. (13)
The findings of a 2012 study stated that peppermint showed no significant improvement in pregnancy-induced nausea and vomiting. (12)
To relieve nausea, you can smear a cotton handkerchief with peppermint oil and inhale through the cloth.
Although several studies on human subjects have correlated peppermint aromatherapy with significant improvements in nausea, further research is required.
4. Vitamin B6 Supplements
Vitamin B6 has been found to reduce the symptoms of nausea and vomiting significantly.
A 2019 study supported the use of vitamin B6 over ginger to alleviate the symptoms of nausea in pregnant women over a period of 60 days. (14)
Both dimenhydrinate and vitamin B6 were found to reduce nausea associated with pregnancy significantly. (15)
Consult your doctor before taking any supplements.
Studies have validated the use of vitamin B6 as an antiemetic. When compared with ginger, vitamin B6 was shown to be a more effective treatment method.
5. Practice Controlled Breathing
Controlled breathing may help reduce the associated discomfort of nausea to some extent.
The findings of a 2014 study showed that practicing diaphragmatic breathing helped slow down the respiration rate and improve the associated nausea, fatigue, and vomiting that accompany motion sickness. (16)
Another 2015 study suggested that combining controlled breathing with aromatherapy is effective in alleviating the symptoms of nausea and the associated discomfort. (17)
Controlled breathing may help relieve the symptoms of nausea.
6. Try Acupressure and Acupuncture
Acupressure and acupuncture therapies may help reduce nausea, and its related symptoms by application of pressure at specific points called the acupoints.
In acupuncture, the pressure application is through the use of a special acupuncture needle, whereas acupressure makes use of manual pressure applied to the pressure point.
Pressing on acupoint PC-6, also called Neiguan, which is located on your inner arm near your wrist, can help relieve nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy.
Special wrist bands are available over the counter for this purpose.
A systematic review suggested that the application of acupuncture on PC-6 acupoint considerably resulted in better outcomes by reducing the incidence of nausea and vomiting. (20)
Acupressure has been found to be useful in treating postoperative nausea, as well. (19)
A 2017 systematic review supported the application of acupressure to reduce the severity of nausea engendered by chemotherapy, with no significant effects on the occurrence of vomiting. (18)
Acupuncture therapy can also benefit individuals experiencing chemotherapy-induced nausea.
Another 2013 systematic review suggested that acupuncture may be considered as adjunctive therapy to reduce nausea as a result of chemotherapy. (21)
Additional research involving several acupuncturists is required to confirm the statistical significance and ascertain the biological mechanism of acupuncture for nausea relief. (21)
Although multiple studies have reported the beneficial aspect of acupressure and acupuncture therapies in treating nausea, further research is needed to establish the efficacy of these methods.
7. Inhale Rubbing Alcohol
Rubbing alcohol, chemically known as 70% isopropyl alcohol, is a highly volatile organic solvent commonly used in households.
Another 2018 study supported the use of rubbing alcohol aromatherapy to significantly reduce the symptoms of mild to moderate nausea and vomiting. (24)
Rubbing alcohol aromatherapy may help reduce the feeling of nausea.
8. Use Lemon Essential Oil
Lemon essential oil may help reduce the symptoms of nausea as reported by the results of a randomized control trial where 40% of the pregnant females in the study agreed with lemon essential oil aromatherapy as a remedy to get comfort from nausea. (25)
Further studies are required to get conclusive results when it comes to the use of lemon essential oil for nausea. (25)
Some degree of scientific research is required to underline the antiemetic properties of lemon essential oil to relieve nausea.
9. Try Cumin and Fennel
Cumin is well known as a digestive aid and may help get rid of indigestion induced by nausea and its related symptoms.
A study suggested that nearly 90% of patients with irritable bowel syndrome found relief from associated nausea after a 4-week treatment. (26)
Fennel is another carminative herb that may help curb nausea to some extent. Fennel helps release the accumulated gas in the stomach and, thus, aids in digestion.
These actions may help improve the symptoms of nausea induced by indigestion.
A study that included 80 female students found that taking fennel helped decrease the intensity of menstruation-induced nausea. Fennel ingestion yielded better outcomes when taken 3 days before menstruation for a period of 3 months. (11)
Also, the anesthetic compounds in fennel help curtail the queasy feeling experienced during nausea.
Using cumin and fennel may help reduce your nausea. Some additional research is required to determine the efficacy of these spices in the treatment of nausea.
How to Prevent Nausea?
You may avoid getting a bout of nausea by following certain preventive measures:
- Wash your hands regularly to avoid contracting an infection that can cause nausea. Avoid sharing clothing and utensils with an infected individual.
- Keep your house clean by regular disinfection.
- If overeating is the cause of nausea, eat small frequent meals to allow the stomach to digest foods gradually.
- Avoid eating out at places where there is a chance presence of stale or spoiled food.
- Do not eat foods that make you feel nauseated.
- Nausea may get triggered at specific times of the day. Avoid eating the foods that you really like when you feel nauseated to prevent relating your favorite foods with nausea and vomiting.
What Are the Consequences?
Severe nausea can cause vomiting.
Persistent and uncontrolled vomiting can lead to electrolyte and fluid imbalance, dehydration, loss of energy, and nutritional deficiencies that can take a toll on the affected person’s health.
Symptoms of dehydration include:
- Reduced urge to urinate
- Frequent thirst
- Feeling of exhaustion
When Does Nausea Become a Concern?
Although nausea is not an illness, it can be serious if you:
- Experience severe headache, pain in the chest or abdominal area
- Experience stiffness in your neck
- Have been vomiting for the last 24 hours causing weakness or fainting
- Experience dehydration causing infrequent urination
- Excessive weight loss due to prolonged loss of appetite
- Observe blood in your vomit
- Suffer from an unclear vision or dry mouth
- Are pregnant and experiencing severe and persistent nausea accompanied by vomiting
It is advised that you seek medical evaluation immediately.
Although nausea is not a very serious cause of concern, it may plague you with a feeling of fatigue. Since nausea is usually a symptom of an underlying health issue, it is of primordial importance to be aware of your condition.
Mild nausea may be curbed within a few hours by following simple remedies. However, if you experience nausea for 24 hours or more, seek immediate professional help.
When experiencing nausea, it is important to rest the stomach, eat bland foods, and bulk up on clear fluids to avoid dehydration.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr. Subramaniam Ramakrishnan, MD (Gastroenterology)
Can stress lead to nausea?
Stress can lead to a number of physical symptoms, including nausea. Anxiety and stress can trigger the nerves that connect the brain and the digestive system. This action results in the release of chemicals that, in turn, cause nausea or vomiting.
Can nausea be a symptom of diabetes?
Diabetes, which is a result of high blood sugar, can remain asymptomatic or cause a variety of symptoms. Nausea and vomiting may be one of the initial symptoms, especially in the younger population.
When blood metabolites, such as sugars, urea, and ammonia, are significantly increased, they reach the brain center called the chemoreceptor trigger zone (nausea/vomiting center).
This triggers a series of connections from the brain to the digestive system, resulting in nausea/vomiting.
Is constant nausea a sign of cancer?
Constant nausea could be one of the symptoms of cancer, although this in isolation does not immediately mean that cancer is the cause.
What foods should be avoided during a bout of nausea?
One of the most common problems that people with nausea face is that they do not feel hungry. Even if they do, the fear of eating may aggravate the problem.
This may be the case for some people with any food that they try to eat, but in others, this can vary.
People often feel that foods associated with strong smells, those that are difficult to digest (greasy, fatty food), and those that are very spicy may aggravate their symptoms.
Additionally, eating very quickly may trigger nausea.
Most feel better sticking to eating bland and cold foods with small bites and chewing slowly to relieve symptoms.
Are cold foods beneficial during nausea?
Cold foods or drinks are well known to suppress nausea. Aerated drinks and any food or drink ingested slowly can also reduce symptoms.
When these food items are consumed, there may be a reduction in the stimulation of the nerves of the digestive system that trigger nausea symptoms.
However, the exact mechanism of how this works is still a matter of debate.
What are the important tips to ease nausea?
– Eat and drink slowly, taking adequate time to chew the food.
– Avoid greasy, fatty, fried, or spicy food items.
– Avoid stimulants. Caffeine is a common stimulant and is mainly found in tea and coffee.
– Attempt some distractions such as listening to music and watching television.
– Eat small meals at frequent intervals rather than eating one or two large meals in a day that are difficult to digest.
– Ensure that your eating environment is clean and as cool as it is comfortable with a fresh flow of air.
– Try supplements that contain ginger or peppermint, which are known to reduce nausea.
– Avoid eating too close to sleeping time.
– Avoid wearing tight-fitting clothes.
– Avoid alcoholic beverages.
About Dr. Subramaniam Ramakrishnan, MD: Dr. Ramakrishnan has been practicing as a Consultant Gastroenterologist since 2007, with a special interest in all aspects of endoscopy, gastroenterology, and liver and pancreatic diseases.
Dr. Ramakrishnan is currently the lead for research in Gastroenterology for the Trust. He is also the lead for the Endoscopy Unit at Spire Cheshire Hospital and has led the team in the hospital to achieve National Accreditation (JAG) in 2016.