Clinical Editor: Megan Dodson, PA-C
You’re sitting at your desk feeling just fine one minute, and then suddenly a wave of something washes over you. Your stomach feels uneasy, your head might spin, and you just have the general sense that vomiting may be in your (very near) future. Unfortunately, nausea is a sensation just about everyone has been intimately familiar with at some point in their lives. But if you’ve ruled out a likely cause like food poisoning or motion sickness, what else could be responsible for your nausea ?
It turns out there’s a long list of possible causes for nausea and while some may seem obvious, others may come as a bit of a surprise. If you’ve been feeling queasy, lost your appetite, found yourself super sweaty, or just generally feeling icky from your head to your stomach to your toes, here are five potential reasons you may be feeling nauseated:
1. You’ve been extra stressed.
Ever had a “nervous stomach” or “butterflies” in your stomach? Then you already know that there is a strong connection between the brain and gut. In fact, the gut is often referred to as your body’s “second brain”. This is because the gut is partially controlled by the central nervous system and also has its own nervous system, known as the enteric nervous system. The systems are in constant communication, so when stress triggers a fight-or-flight response in the central nervous system, it also affects the gastrointestinal systems. As a result, stress can cause a host of digestive issues ranging from indigestion and constipation to diarrhea, and yes, nausea.
2. You’re dehydrated.
Many of us could benefit from drinking more water, but most people are unaware that even mild dehydration can cause dizziness or nausea. Some research suggests that this could be related to the low blood pressure that often accompanies dehydration. Severe diarrhea, fever, overuse of diuretics, vomiting, and strenuous exercise can all lead to dehydration. Even mild cases (a loss of as little as 1 percent to 2 percent of your body weight) of dehydration can cause fatigue and other unpleasant symptoms.
3. You could be pregnant.
Thanks to the tropes of movies and TV shows, many people are well aware that sudden nausea may be a symptom of pregnancy. It’s true that pregnancy — particularly early pregnancy — can cause nausea. Although it’s often referred to as “morning sickness,” it can in fact happen at any time of day. There is no singular cause of nausea during pregnancy, but common causes include an increase in hormones, as well as reduced blood sugar. Symptoms usually start before nine weeks of pregnancy and for most women, nausea goes away by the 14th week. For some, however, nausea can last for several weeks or months and for a few, it can last throughout the entire pregnancy. In up to three percent of pregnancies, a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum can occur. This is a severe form of nausea and vomiting that can cause dehydration and other complications, so it requires medical treatment. While mild nausea and occasional vomiting in early pregnancy aren’t necessarily dangerous, you should talk with your care team if the symptoms are causing you concern, causing difficulty with keeping fluids down, or negatively impacting your daily life. New onset nausea and vomiting in late pregnancy can be a sign of serious pregnancy complications, so be sure to contact your provider urgently if this occurs.
4. Your supplements or medications could be to blame.
Prescription medications often come with a long list of warnings and potential side effects, but over-the-counter medicines and supplements can also wreak havoc if taken incorrectly or combined with certain other meds. For some people, taking OTC pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen or taking vitamins on an empty stomach can induce nausea, and in some cases, supplements like vitamin C and iron can also lead to an upset stomach.If you think you’re experiencing nausea as a side effect of your medications, talk to your healthcare provider before stopping any of your medications.
5. You could be having a heart attack.
This one certainly isn’t meant to cause a panic, but nausea is a heart attack symptom that many people may not be aware of, and it’s a symptom that occurs more frequently in women than men. In addition to chest discomfort and discomfort in other areas of the upper body like the back, neck, and jaw, heart attack symptoms can also include shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and yes, nausea. If you’re experiencing nausea in conjunction with any of these other symptoms and are concerned you may be having a heart attack, don’t hesitate to call 911 immediately.
What to do if you’re experiencing nausea
Dealing with nausea is never pleasant. If you’re feeling nauseous, try one of these
home remedies for some quick relief:
- Drink clear or ice-cold liquids and eat room-temperature or cool foods since extra hot snacks and meals can upset your stomach.
- Stick to bland foods like crackers or bread and avoid greasy, fried, or sweet foods until you feel better.
- Chew your food and drink your beverages slowly.
- Eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day.
- Avoid physical activity immediately after eating.
- If you believe your nausea is related to stress or anxiety, try some deep breathing exercises or find additional support for your psychological well being.
Everyone experiences an upset stomach once in a while, but if you’re regularly feeling nauseated and it’s impacting your life, it’s time to make an appointment with your primary care provider. Nausea can also be a sign of a more serious condition, so seek medical attention right away for any of the following symptoms:
- Severe nausea/vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea/vomiting with additional symptoms such as fever, chest pain, difficulty breathing, lightheadedness or feeling faint
Severe symptoms will need to be evaluated urgently in person, but if you’re not sure what the next step is and you need some help deciding what to do, request a video chat from your One Medical app to speak with a provider.
The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, a national, modern primary care practice pairing 24/7 virtual care services with inviting and convenient in-person care at over 100 locations across the U.S. One Medical is on a mission to transform health care for all through a human-centered, technology-powered approach to caring for people at every stage of life.
Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. 1Life Healthcare, Inc. and the One Medical entities make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.