Nausea and vomiting: Causes, treatment, home remedies, and when to see a doctor
Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms that can affect anyone. What causes these symptoms, and how can they be treated?
- Nausea and vomiting are usually harmless. However, they can be indications of serious medical conditions like hypotension, digestive system issues, and appendicitis.
- Digestive disorders, cancer treatment, medications, and infections can also cause nausea and vomiting.
- Visit your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment if you experience persistent nausea and vomiting or if they are accompanied by other symptoms.
Nausea is a common symptom characterized by the urge to vomit. It is also called being sick to the stomach.
The feeling of nausea may resolve on its own or with the help of medications and home remedies. Sometimes, it eventually leads to vomiting, which is the involuntary or voluntary emptying of the stomach’s content through the mouth.
This article explores the causes of nausea and vomiting, the appropriate treatments, effective home remedies, and when you should see a doctor about these symptoms.
What does nausea feel like?
Many people describe nausea as being sick to their stomachs. But it can best described as having the urge to vomit, and is usually accompanied by stomach discomfort. Nausea can make you feel a churn or an unsettled sensation in your upper abdominal region.
In addition, nausea may trigger cold sweats, where your palms may feel clammy, and induce dizziness or vertigo, where it feels like the environment around you is spinning. Some individuals may experience increased production of saliva when they are nauseous.
Meaning of vomiting
Vomiting, also called emesis, is the voluntary or involuntary expulsion of your stomach’s content through your mouth.
This unpleasant condition is commonly referred to as throwing up, and it usually involves the muscular contraction of your abdominal and thoracic regions to expel these stomach contents. You may also experience tightness and pressure in your stomach in addition to these contractions.
After vomiting, you may experience a sense of relief, as this process can be physically draining.
Are nausea and vomiting life-threatening?
Nausea and vomiting are not illnesses on their own, but they are usually symptoms of other health conditions. Usually, they are harmless and typically go away on their own. However, they can also indicate more life-threatening conditions like appendicitis or food poisoning.
Vomiting can become potentially life-threatening when it is severe, leading to dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and aspiration. Dehydration due to frequent vomiting is more life-threatening for children, especially when it occurs with diarrhea. This can cause kids to lose a substantial amount of body fluids, which may not be replenished quickly because they refuse oral intake or because of their inability to communicate.
Electrolytes are minerals that are mostly present in your bodily fluids. Losing body fluids through frequent vomiting can lead to an electrolyte imbalance, which can affect the body's normal functioning. Vomiting can also lead to a condition called aspiration pneumonia, which occurs when you breathe food or liquid into the lungs or airways, causing inflammation and infection in these areas.
Causes of nausea and vomiting
There are several causes of nausea and vomiting. Some of these causes include:
1. Digestive disorders
Nausea and vomiting are two of the primary symptoms of several gastrointestinal or digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastritis, gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), and peptic ulcer disease. In addition to nausea, you may experience other symptoms like abdominal discomfort, bloating, and heartburn.
Different classes of medications, like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antibiotics, and antidepressants, can induce nausea. Some examples of drugs under these classes of medications include;
- NSAIDs: Aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, indomethacin, and piroxicam are great examples of NSAIDs. A recent review article shows that nausea is one of the adverse effects of NSAIDs on the upper gastrointestinal tract.
- Antibiotics: Fluoroquinolone is a common antibiotic used to treat infections, and in 2021, researchers discovered that 20% of patients treated with this antibiotic experienced nausea and vomiting as adverse effects.
- Antidepressants: Citalopram, Escitalopram, Fluoxetine, Paroxetine, and Sertraline are examples of antidepressants used to treat clinical depression. A 2023 article shows that nausea is a common side effect of taking antidepressants.
3. Cancer treatment
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are common cancer treatments that can induce nausea and vomiting in patients undergoing them.
- Chemotherapy: This chemical treatment uses drugs to kill growing cancer cells. In a recent 2023 review, nausea and vomiting were common side effects of chemotherapy, and researchers ranked these symptoms as the most distressing side effects of this treatment based on their findings.
- Radiation therapy: also called radiotherapy, is a cancer treatment that kills cancer cells using intense radiation. According to the National Cancer Institute, nausea and vomiting are prominent side effects of cancer treatments, including radiation therapy.
4. Motion sickness
Motion sickness is a sick feeling that is caused by movement. This feeling is also called car, sea, air, or train sickness because it often occurs when in motion. According to a 2022 research article, nausea and vomiting are the primary symptoms of motion sickness; however, you may experience other symptoms like sweating, headaches, drowsiness, loss of appetite, and increased salivation.
5. Morning sickness
Morning sickness is a term used for the different signs and symptoms of pregnancy. Nausea and vomiting are common in people experiencing morning sickness. These symptoms are mostly present in the first trimester of pregnancy and are usually accompanied by other symptoms like missed periods, fatigue, breast changes, frequent urination, and cramping.
Consuming certain foods you may be allergic to or overeating can trigger nausea and vomiting.
7. Food poisoning
Eating or drinking something that germs or other toxic substances may have contaminated causes food poisoning. Food poisoning is a type of food-borne illness that can trigger nausea and vomiting as well as other symptoms like abdominal pain and diarrhea.
8. Infection or infectious diseases
Infection is the intrusion and growth of microorganisms in the body. These microorganisms can be viruses, fungi, or bacteria, and they can cause infectious diseases like stomach flu or gastroenteritis. A 2022 article shows that nausea and vomiting are symptoms of gastroenteritis, along with other symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and diarrhea.
Causes of nausea in children
The causes of nausea vary based on age, and in children, the common causes of nausea and vomiting include:
- Gastroenteritis (a gastrointestinal condition caused by rotavirus)
- Motion sickness
- Food poisoning
- Allergic reactions to food or drinks consumed
Treatment for nausea and vomiting
You can take several steps to control nausea and vomiting; however, keep in mind that they can be symptoms of other health conditions. So it is important to consult your doctor first before taking any medications, and this applies when this feeling becomes frequent.
To manage nausea and vomiting, some common medications your doctor may prescribe include:
- Antihistamines like promethazine and Dramamine
- Dopamine-blocking medications like chlorpromazine
- Antispasmodic drugs like Hyoscine
Other ways you can relieve and control nausea and vomiting include:
- Drinking small quantities of clear liquids like fruit juice, water, or soda
- Avoiding solid food until the vomiting period is over
- Avoiding tasks or activities that may worsen nausea and vomiting—medical professionals recommend that you sit upright and rest for a while.
Home remedies that may relieve nausea and vomiting
Some home remedies you can try out to help ease the feeling of nausea and vomiting include:
Ginger contains compounds like gingerol, shogaols, zingiberene, and zingerone, which are effective in relieving nausea and vomiting.
According to a 2020 systematic review, ginger showed positive results in relieving nausea and vomiting, including chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV) and nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. However, you should seek permission from your doctor before using ginger as a remedy for these symptoms.
Cinnamon oil is an extract from the bark of cinnamon, and it is a popular aromatherapy agent known for its antifungal and relaxing properties. Aromatherapy with cinnamon oil has a positive effect on digestive conditions and may relieve nausea and vomiting.
One 2021 article shows that cinnamon oil is effective in relieving digestive conditions like gastritis, indigestion, and stomachaches.
Researchers have studied lemon oil for improving nausea and vomiting in pregnant people, and according to a recent review, lemon oil was effective in reducing the severity of nausea and vomiting in pregnant people. However, you should consult your doctor before considering aromatherapy with lemon oil.
When to seek medical treatment
Nausea and vomiting are not always serious; however, they can be symptoms of underlying health conditions that require your doctor’s attention.
You should see your doctor immediately if:
- You are experiencing persistent nausea and vomiting that lasts more than 24 hours and causes extreme body weakness or dehydration
- There is blood in your vomit
- Vomiting lasts for more than a few hours
- You have a fever
- You are experiencing severe headaches and neck stiffness
- You are breathing rapidly
- Diarrhea accompanies vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are common health occurrences; however, they are not illnesses but are mostly symptoms of other health conditions. Some causes of nausea and vomiting include digestive disorders, cancer treatment, diet, and pregnancy.
You should consult your doctor before taking any medications, as these symptoms may be signs of other health complications. Consulting your doctor is also important when considering home remedies to relieve nausea and vomiting.