Nausea: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

Nausea is an unpleasant, diffuse sensation of uneasiness and discomfort, often perceived as an urge to vomit. This feeling of uneasiness can be short-lived, from a couple of seconds to a couple of minutes, or can be prolonged. If prolonged, it can be a signal of a more serious condition festering underneath.

The uneasiness is felt in the upper abdomen, chest, and back of the throat. Just like pain, nausea discourages the person from repeating whatever caused the unpleasantness; the memory of nausea elicits revulsion towards whatever was eaten before vomiting it up even if it did not nausea.

Since nausea is a non-specific symptom, it can be caused by motion sickness, dizziness, migraine, fainting, low blood sugar, gastroenteritis or food poisoning. Nausea is also a side effect of many medications including chemotherapy, or morning sickness faced during early pregnancy. Nausea may also be caused by anxiety, disgust or depression.

Antiemetics are prescribed to prevent or ease symptoms of nausea.

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How Does Nausea Affect Your Body?

Nausea is an unpleasant feeling of the stomach, which may or may not result in vomiting. Vomiting is a reflex which is generated from the vomiting center in the brain, causing intestines to reverse its peristaltic movements in order to force the contents of the stomach out through the mouth.

What Are The Causes of Nausea?

  • Gastrointestinal infection – It is one of the most common causes of acute nausea and may be the presentation of many gastrointestinal disorders, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, functional dyspepsia, gastroparesis, peptic ulcer, celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or Crohn’s disease.
  • Food poisoning – This causes an abrupt onset of nausea and vomiting, one to six hours after ingestion of contaminated food, and lasts for one to two days.
  • Medications – This can potentially cause nausea. Cytotoxic chemotherapy regimens for cancer and other diseases, and general anesthetic agents cause nausea. Also, ergotamine is well known to cause nausea in some patients; a person using it for the first time will be prescribed an antiemetic for relief if needed.
  • Pregnancy – It is common during early pregnancy.
  • Disequilibrium – Conditions involving balance such as motion sickness and vertigo can lead to nausea and vomiting.
  • Psychiatric – Nausea may also be caused by depression, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders.
  • Complicated diseases – Most causes of nausea are not serious. However, some serious conditions are associated with nausea. These include pancreatitis, small bowel obstruction, appendicitis, cholecystitis, hepatitis, diabetic ketoacidosis, increased intracranial pressure, brain tumors, meningitis, heart attack, carbon monoxide poisoning, and many others.

What Are The Risk Factors for Nausea?

There are no specific risk factors known that may cause nausea.

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What Are The Symptoms of Nausea?

Nausea is a very uncomfortable, but not a painful state, making a person feel it in the back of the throat, chest or the upper abdomen.

The feeling is usually associated with a distaste for food or an urge to vomit. Sometimes nausea is accompanied by profuse sweating.

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How is Nausea Diagnosed?

  • Patient history – This may help in knowing the possible cause of nausea. If the symptoms have an acute onset, then drugs, toxins, and infections are likely. While a long history of nausea will point towards a chronic illness.
  • Physical exam – Auscultation of the abdomen can produce a high-pitched tinkling sound which indicates possible bowel obstruction, while a splashing succussion sound is more indicative of gastric outlet obstruction. Pain on the abdominal exam when pressing, may indicate an inflammatory process.
  • Liver function tests and lipase – These tests would identify pancreaticobiliary diseases.
  • X-ray – An abdominal X-ray shows air-fluid levels which are indicative of bowel obstruction, and the X-ray which shows air-filled bowel loops suggests ileus.
  • Advanced imaging – Advanced imaging such as CT scan, upper endoscopy, colonoscopy, barium enema, or an MRI also helps in the diagnosis.
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How to Prevent And control Nausea?

  • Avoiding certain nausea triggers can help to prevent nausea’s onset. Avoiding flickering lights (which can trigger migraine headaches), heat and humidity, sea voyages, strong odors can help to prevent nausea attacks.
  • Taking an anti-nausea medication before a journey can also prevent motion sickness.
  • Eating small and frequent meals can help to reduce the symptoms of nausea.
  • Avoiding physical activity after meals can also minimize nausea.
  • Avoiding spicy, high-fat or greasy food items can help to minimize nausea.

Treatment of Nausea – Allopathic Treatment

Rehydration with oral electrolyte solutions is preferred when loss of fluids due to vomiting leads to dehydration. In some cases, rehydration is done intravenously.

Medications used to treat nausea:

  • Antihistamines and anticholinergics (meclizine and scopolamine) – This is given to people with motion sickness and vertigo.
  • Dopamine antagonists (metoclopramide, prochlorperazine, and chlorpromazine) – This is for nausea and vomiting associated with migraine headaches.
  • Serotonin antagonists (ondansetron) – This medicine suppresses nausea and vomiting in cases of gastroenteritis.
  • Pyridoxine and doxylamine – This combination drug is the first line treatment for pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting.
  • Dimenhydrinate – This medicine helps in preventing postoperative nausea and vomiting.

Treatment of Nausea – Homeopathic Treatment

  • Nux vomica – This relieves nausea and cramps from indigestion, especially after excessive consumption of spicy food or alcohol.
  • Bryonia – This medicine is given when the stomach feels heavy after eating, and is sensitive to touch and thirst for long drinks of cold water.
  • Antimonium crudum – This is given when one vomits right after eating or drinking, or has a white-coated tongue, mostly from overeating or eating indigestible substances.
  • Ipecac – This is prescribed to treat constant and continual nausea which is usually accompanied by vomiting.

Nausea – Lifestyle Tips

  • Eat small meals frequently throughout the day.
  • Avoid foods which are hard to digest.
  • Consume cold foods, if nauseated by the smell of hot or warm foods.
  • Drink plenty amount of liquids; drink between meals rather than after a meal.
  • Drink beverages like ginger ale or chamomile tea.
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks like colas, coffees, and teas.
  • Avoid spicy and fried foods.

What Are The Recommended Exercises For a Person With Nausea?

Deep breathing exercises are recommended while feeling nauseated.

Nausea And Pregnancy – Things to Know

  • During pregnancy, nausea followed by vomiting might be due to hormones, evolutionary adaptation or psychological causes.
  • According to a study, nausea during the first trimester during pregnancy signifies a lower chance of miscarriage.
  • However, not every pregnant woman feels nauseated during her pregnancy. Nausea can be experienced in the second and third trimesters too.

Common Complications Related to Nausea

Mostly nausea clears up on its own. However, persistent nausea and vomiting can cause dehydration and malnutrition.

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