11 Common Causes of Nausea

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Cindy Kuzma on May 10, 2021
  • woman with cramps
    Some Surprising but Common Causes of Nausea
    Some sources of sickness—a rocking ship, an impending baby—are obvious to the person who is queasy. In other cases, an invisible bacteria or surprising medication side effect may be to blame. Become familiar with the most common causes of nausea and what you can do about them.
  • Man looking sick in car
    1. Motion Sickness
    A small boat in a stormy ocean could give anyone a bout of seasickness. Some people are more prone than others, including women, children, and people with migraines. To ward it off, drive instead of ride in a car, sit in the front of the bus, and claim an over-wing seat on planes. If you are ill, try lying down, closing your eyes, looking at the horizon, or focusing on a point, such as the exit sign on a plane. Drinking plenty of water helps too.
  • Women receiving radiation treatment
    2. Cancer Treatment
    As many as 65% of people with advanced cancer develop nausea and vomiting. Often this relates to the types of treatments cancer patients receive. Some can cause immediate feelings of illness, while others produce compounds that build up over time to upset the stomach. If nausea affects your quality of life, your doctor will work with you on fine-tuning your treatment to reduce its effects. Your doctor can prescribe anti-nausea drugs to help prevent and treat nausea.
  • Pregnant Woman with Morning Sickness
    3. Pregnancy
    Many moms-to-be feel sick to their stomach between two and eight weeks after conception. Sometimes the feeling subsides, but in other cases, it continues through the entire pregnancy term. And while it’s called “morning sickness,” it can occur anytime. No one knows for sure why it occurs, though hormones may play a role. To ease symptoms, get plenty of rest, avoid bothersome odors, and eat smaller meals throughout the day.
  • Friends having wine at restaurant
    4. Alcohol Consumption
    People with a certain genetic background feel sick to their stomach whenever they drink. If you’ve ever had a few too many, you know how illness can occur the next day, too. In addition, nausea is also a symptom of a wide range of complications that occur with long-term, heavy drinking. For instance, it often accompanies alcohol-related liver disease or pancreatitis, a potentially severe inflammation of the pancreas.
  • blowing nose in bed
    5. Viruses
    Several different types of viruses can inflame the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine, causing nausea and vomiting. You might know this condition as “stomach flu,” but doctors call it viral gastroenteritis since the influenza virus is not involved. The disease spreads quickly from touching contaminated surfaces, sharing food or utensils with infected people, or swallowing airborne particles. Most cases resolve in 1 to 3 days with no long-term complications.
  • Woman with migraine
    6. Migraines
    In one recent study, about half of the participants with migraines said they frequently felt nauseous during their headaches. This is just one of several symptoms—including sensitivity to light and sound—that makes migraines particularly debilitating. Unfortunately, some medications for migraine, including ergotamine drugs, also cause nausea. Your doctor may recommend switching treatments or combining drugs to reduce this effect.
  • Man getting sick in bathroom
    7. Food Poisoning
    Salmonella and Listeria are just two of the many types of bacteria known to cause food poisoning. These bugs can crash your picnic or dinner party, leaving behind food-borne illness that causes gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. To ward these illnesses off, wash your hands frequently while handling food. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly, keep raw and cooked foods separate, and use a meat thermometer to ensure your dishes are cooked thoroughly.
  • Doctor testing Woman's Stomach
    8. Gallstones
    As small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball, these hard particles often cause a sudden pain in the abdomen. Doctors call this a gallbladder attack. If you experience nausea or vomiting after such an episode, call for medical help. You may have a serious infection or inflammation of the gallbladder, liver or pancreas.
  • Woman with Anxiety
    9. Anxiety
    Everyone feels nervous from time to time. About 40 million American adults develop excessive anxiety that sometimes brings on physical symptoms, including nausea. If your queasiness comes accompanied by extreme worry lasting at least six months, talk with your doctor. You may have an anxiety disorder. Medications, talk therapy, or a combination of the two can help.
  • Taking medication
    10. Medications
    Sometimes the very treatments designed to make you better can worsen your health in other ways. Certain drugs are known to cause mild nausea as a side effect—for instance, oseltamivir phosphate (Tamiflu) for influenza, along with some pain medications. But severe nausea and vomiting could be the sign of a serious adverse drug reaction. Call your doctor—but don’t stop taking your medicines unless he or she instructs you otherwise.
  • doctor-applying-pressure-to-patients-stomach
    11. Gastroparesis
    This condition occurs when nerve problems prevent your stomach muscles from contracting properly. As a result, food doesn’t move into your small intestine as it should. You’ll experience nausea, fullness after eating only a little, and vomiting of undigested food. In most cases, doctors can’t pinpoint the cause, although diabetes and nervous system diseases play a role. There’s often no cure, but treatment focuses on the underlying cause and helping you manage symptoms.
11 Common Causes of Nausea

About The Author

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  2. Be food safe: Protect yourself from food poisoning. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/Features/BeFoodSafe/ 
  3. Beyond hangovers: Understanding alcohol’s impact on your health. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Hangovers/beyondHangovers.pdf  
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  6. Gallstones. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/gallstones/Pages/facts.... 
  7. Gastroparesis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/gastroparesis/Pages/fac... 
  8. Nausea, vomiting (emesis), constipation, and bowel obstruction in advanced cancer. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/nausea/HealthProfessional/page7  
  9. Pain control after surgery: Pain medicines. American Academy of Family Physicians. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/drugs-procedures-devices/prescription-medicines/pain-control...  
  10. The pre-travel consultation: Self-treatable conditions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2014/chapter-2-the-pre-travel-consultation/motion-sickness  
  11. Tamiflu: Consumer questions and answers. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/PostmarketDrugSafetyInformationforPatientsandProviders/ucm188859...  
  12. Viral gastroenteritis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/viral-gastroenteritis/P...  
  13. What are some common signs of pregnancy? National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. http://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/pregnancy/conditioninfo/Pages/signs.aspx  
  14. What is migraine? National Institute of Neurological Disorder and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/migraine/migraine.htm
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Last Review Date: 2021 May 10
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