For other uses, see Nausea (disambiguation).
A 1681 painting depicting a person vomiting
Classification and external resources
Specialty Gastroenterology
ICD-10 R11.0
ICD-9-CM 787.03
MedlinePlus 003117
MeSH D009325

Nausea is a sensation of unease and discomfort in the upper stomach with an involuntary urge to vomit.[1] It may precede vomiting, but a person can have nausea without vomiting. When prolonged, it is a debilitating symptom.[2]

Nausea is a non-specific symptom, which means that it has many possible causes. Some common causes of nausea are motion sickness, dizziness, migraine, fainting, low blood sugar, gastroenteritis (stomach infection) or food poisoning. Nausea is a side effect of many medications including chemotherapy, nauseates or morning sickness in early pregnancy. Nausea may also be caused by anxiety, disgust and depression.[3][4][5]

Medications taken to prevent and treat nausea are called antiemetics. The most commonly prescribed antiemetics in the US are promethazine, metoclopramide and ondansetron. The word nausea is from Latin nausea, from Greek ναυσίαnausia,[6] "ναυτία" – nautia, motion sickness", "feeling sick or queasy".[7]


Gastrointestinal infections (37%) and food poisoning are the two most common causes of acute nausea and vomiting.[1] Side effects from medications (3%) and pregnancy are also relatively frequent.[1] There are many causes of chronic nausea.[1] Nausea and vomiting remain undiagnosed in 10% of the cases, with rates about 6% in children and more than 16% in people aged more than 65 years.[8]


Gastrointestinal infection is one of the most common causes of acute nausea and vomiting.[1] Chronic nausea may be the presentation of many gastrointestinal disorders, occasionally as the major symptom, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, functional dyspepsia, gastroparesis, peptic ulcer, celiac disease, Crohn's disease, hepatitis, upper gastrointestinal malignancy, and pancreatic cancer.[1] Uncomplicated Helicobacter pylori infection does not cause chronic nausea.[1]

Food poisoning

Food poisoning usually causes an abrupt onset of nausea and vomiting one to six hours after ingestion of contaminated food and lasts for one to two days.[9] It is due to toxins produced by bacteria in food.[9]


Many medications can potentially cause nausea.[9] Some of the most frequently associated include cancer and systemic chemotherapy regimens and general anaesthetic agents.


Nausea or "morning sickness" is common during early pregnancy but may occasionally continue into the second and third trimesters. In the first trimester nearly 80% of women have some degree of nausea.[10] Pregnancy should therefore be considered as a possible cause of nausea in any women of child bearing age.[9] While usually it is mild and self-limiting, severe cases known as hyperemesis gravidarum may require treatment.[11]


A number of conditions involving balance such as motion sickness and vertigo can lead to nausea and vomiting.


Nausea may be caused by depression, anxiety disorders and eating disorders.[12]

Potentially serious

While most causes of nausea are not serious, some serious causes do occur. These include: Intracranial Pressure secondary to head trauma or hemorrhagic stroke, diabetic ketoacidosis, brain tumor, surgical problems, heart attack,[13] pancreatitis, small bowel obstruction, meningitis, appendicitis, cholecystitis, Addisonian crisis, Choledocholithiasis (from gallstones), hepatitis, as a sign of carbon monoxide poison and many others.[1]

Comprehensive list

Inside the abdomen

Obstructing disorders

Enteric infections

Inflammatory diseases

Sensorimotor dysfunction


Outside the abdomen


Inner-ear diseases

Intracerebral disorders

Psychiatric illnesses


Medications and metabolic disorders


Endocrine/metabolic disease


Diagnostic approach

Patient history

Taking a thorough patient history may reveal important clues to the cause of nausea and vomiting. If the patient's symptoms have an acute onset, then drugs, toxins, and infections are likely. In contrast, a long-standing history of nausea will point towards a chronic illness as the culprit. The timing of nausea and vomiting after eating food is an important factor to pay attention to. Symptoms that occur within an hour of eating may indicate an obstruction proximal to the small intestine, such as gastroparesis or pyloric stenosis. An obstruction further down in the intestine or colon will cause delayed vomiting. An infectious cause of nausea and vomiting such as gastroenteritis may present several hours to days after the food was ingested.[14] The contents of the emesis is a valuable clue towards determining the cause. Bits of fecal matter in the emesis indicate obstruction in the distal intestine or the colon. Emesis that is of a bilious nature (greenish in color) localizes the obstruction to a point past the stomach. Emesis of undigested food points to an obstruction prior to the gastric outlet, such as achalasia or Zenker's diverticulum. If patient experiences reduced abdominal pain after vomiting, then obstruction is a likely etiology. However, vomiting does not relieve the pain brought on by pancreatitis or cholecystitis.[14]

Physical exam

It is important to watch out for signs of dehydration, such as orthostatic hypotension and skin turgor. Auscultation of the abdomen can produce several clues to the cause of nausea and vomiting. A high-pitched tinkling sound indicates possible bowel obstruction, while a splashing "succussion" sound is more indicative of gastric outlet obstruction. Eliciting pain on the abdominal exam when pressing on the patient may indicate an inflammatory process. Signs such as papilledema, visual field losses, or focal neurological deficits are red flag signs for elevated intracranial pressure.[14]

Diagnostic testing

When a history and physical exam are not enough to determine the cause of nausea and vomiting, certain diagnostic tests may prove useful. A chemistry panel would be useful for electrolyte and metabolic abnormalities. Liver function tests and lipase would identify pancreaticobiliary diseases. Abdominal X-rays showilng air-fluid levels indicate bowel obstruction, while an X-ray showing air-filled bowel loops are more indicative of ileus. More advanced imaging and procedures may be necessary, such as a CT scan, upper endoscopy, colonoscopy, barium enema, or MRI. Abnormal GI motility can be assessed using specific tests like gastric scintigraphy, wireless motility capsules, and small-intestinal manometry.[14]


Research on nausea and vomiting has relied on using animal models to mimic the anatomy and neuropharmacologic features of the human body.[15] The physiologic mechanism of nausea is a complex process that has yet to be fully elucidated. There are four general pathways that are activated by specific triggers in the human body that go on to create the sensation of nausea and vomiting.[16]

Signals from any of these pathways then travel to the brainstem, activating several structures including the nucleus of the solitary tract, the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus, and central pattern generator.[17] These structures go on to signal various downstream effects of nausea and vomiting. The body's motor muscle responses involve halting the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract, and in fact causing reversed propulsion of gastric contents towards the mouth while increasing abdominal muscle contraction. Autonomic effects involve increased salivation and the sensation of feeling faint that often occurs with nausea and vomiting.


If dehydration is present due to loss of fluids from severe vomiting, rehydration with oral electrolyte solutions is preferred.[1] If this is not effective or possible, intravenous rehydration may be required.[1] Medical care is recommended if: a person cannot keep any liquids down, has symptoms more than 2 days, is weak, has a fever, has stomach pain, vomits more two times in a day or does not urinate for more than 8 hours.[18]


Many pharmacologic medications are available for the treatment of nausea. There is no medication that is clearly superior to other medications for all cases of nausea.[19] The choice of antiemetic medication may be based on the situation during which the person experiences nausea. For people with motion sickness and vertigo, antihistamines and anticholinergics such as meclizine and scopalamine are particularly effective.[20] Nausea and vomiting associated with migraine headaches respond best to dopamine antagonists such as metoclopramide, prochlorperazine, and chlorpromazine.[20] In cases of gastroenteritis, serotonin antagonist such as ondansetron were found to suppress nausea and vomiting, as well as reduce the need for IV fluid resuscitation.[20] The combination of pyridoxine and doxylamine is the first line treatment for pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting.[20] Dimenhydrinate is an inexpensive and effective over the counter medication for preventing postoperative nausea and vomiting.[21] Other factors to consider when choosing an antiemetic medication include the person's preference, side-effect profile, and cost.

Alternative medicine

In certain people, cannabinoids may be effective in reducing chemotherapy associated nausea and vomiting.[22][23] Several studies have demonstrated the therapeutic effects of cannabinoids for nausea and vomiting in the advanced stages of illnesses such as cancer and AIDS.[24][25]

In hospital settings topical anti-nausea gels are not indicated because of lack of research backing their efficacy.[26] Topical gels containing lorazepam, diphenhydramine, and haloperidol are sometimes used for nausea but are not equivalent to more established therapies.[26]

Ginger has also been shown to be potentially effective in treating several types of nausea.[27][28]

Tentative evidence supports acupuncture at point PC6.[29]


The outlook depends on the cause. Most people recover within few hours or a day. While short-term nausea and vomiting are generally harmless, they may sometimes indicate a more serious condition. When associated with prolonged vomiting, it may lead to dehydration and/or dangerous electrolyte imbalances. Repeated intentional vomiting, characteristic of bulimia, can cause stomach acid to wear away at the enamel in teeth.[30]


Nausea and or vomiting is the main complaint in 1.6% of visits to family physicians in Australia.[8] However, only 25% of people with nausea visit their family physician.[1] It is most common in those 15–24 years old and less common in other ages.[8]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Metz A, Hebbard G (September 2007). "Nausea and vomiting in adults--a diagnostic approach" (PDF). Aust Fam Physician (Review). 36 (9): 688–92. PMID 17885699.
  2. "Nausea".
  3. "Stress symptoms: Effects on your body, feelings and behavior". Mayo Clinic.
  4. "Diagnostic Criteria: Clinical Guidelines for the Management of Anxiety". PubMed.
  5. "Disease Information for Stress/Emotional/Physical: Clinical Manifestations".
  6. ναυσία, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott,.A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  7. ναυτία, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  8. 1 2 3 Helena Britt; Fahridin, S (September 2007). "Presentations of nausea and vomiting" (PDF). Aust Fam Physician. 36 (9): 673–784. PMID 17885697.
  9. 1 2 3 4 Scorza K, Williams A, Phillips JD, Shaw J (July 2007). "Evaluation of nausea and vomiting". Am Fam Physician. 76 (1): 76–84. PMID 17668843.
  10. Koch KL, Frissora CL (March 2003). "Nausea and vomiting during pregnancy". Gastroenterol. Clin. North Am. 32 (1): 201–34, vi. doi:10.1016/S0889-8553(02)00070-5. PMID 12635417.
  11. Sheehan P (September 2007). "Hyperemesis gravidarum--assessment and management". Aust Fam Physician. 36 (9): 698–701. PMID 17885701.
  12. Singh P, Yoon SS, Kuo B (2016). "Nausea: a review of pathophysiology and therapeutics.". Therap Adv Gastroenterol (Review). 9 (1): 98–112 (Table 1). doi:10.1177/1756283X15618131. PMC 4699282Freely accessible. PMID 26770271.
  13. O'Connor RE, Brady W, Brooks SC, Diercks D, Egan J, Ghaemmaghami C, Menon V, O'Neil BJ, Travers AH, Yannopoulos D (2010). "Part 10: acute coronary syndromes: 2010 American Heart Association Guidelines for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Emergency Cardiovascular Care". Circulation. 122 (suppl 3): S788. doi:10.1161/circulationaha.110.971028.
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Hasler WL. Nausea, Vomiting, and Indigestion. In: Kasper D, Fauci A, Hauser S, Longo D, Jameson J, Loscalzo J. eds. 'Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2015.
  15. Horn, Andrews (2006). "Signals for nausea and emesis: implications for models of upper gastrointestinal disease". Autonomic Neuroscience. 125: 100–115. doi:10.1016/j.autneu.2006.01.008. Retrieved 2015-01-11.
  16. Lien, C (2012). Principles and Practice of Hospital Medicine. New York, NY: McGraw HIll. pp. Chapter 217: Domains of Care: Physical Aspects of Care.
  17. Bashashati, Mohammad; McCallum, Richard W. (2014-01-05). "Neurochemical mechanisms and pharmacologic strategies in managing nausea and vomiting related to cyclic vomiting syndrome and other gastrointestinal disorders". European Journal of Pharmacology. 722: 79–94. doi:10.1016/j.ejphar.2013.09.075. ISSN 1879-0712. PMID 24161560.
  18. "When you have nausea and vomiting: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2014-03-20.
  19. Furyk, Jeremy S; Meek, Robert A; Egerton-Warburton, Diana (2015-09-28). Drugs for the treatment of nausea and vomiting in adults in the emergency department setting. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. doi:10.1002/14651858.cd010106.pub2. ISSN 1465-1858.
  20. 1 2 3 4 Flake, ZA (March 1, 2015). "Practical selection of antiemetics in the ambulatory setting". American Family Physician. 91: 293–6. PMID 25822385. Retrieved 11/10/2015. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  21. Kranke P, Morin AM, Roewer N, Eberhart LH (March 2002). "Dimenhydrinate for prophylaxis of postoperative nausea and vomiting: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials". Acta Anaesthesiol Scand. 46 (3): 238–44. doi:10.1034/j.1399-6576.2002.t01-1-460303.x. PMID 11939912.
  22. Tramèr MR, Carroll D, Campbell FA, Reynolds DJ, Moore RA, McQuay HJ (July 2001). "Cannabinoids for control of chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting: quantitative systematic review". BMJ. 323 (7303): 16–21. doi:10.1136/bmj.323.7303.16. PMC 34325Freely accessible. PMID 11440936.
  23. Drug Policy Alliance (2001). "Medicinal Uses of Marijuana: Nausea, Emesis and Appetite Stimulation". Retrieved 2007-08-02.
  24. World health Organization, Cannabis - epidemiology.
  25. "Cannabinoids for medical use: A systematic review and meta-analysis". JAMA. 313 (24): 2456–2473. 2015-06-23. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.6358. ISSN 0098-7484. PMID 26103030.
  26. 1 2 American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, "Five Things Physicians and Patients Should Question", Choosing Wisely: an initiative of the ABIM Foundation, American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, retrieved August 1, 2013, which cites
    • Smith, T. J.; Ritter, J. K.; Poklis, J. L.; Fletcher, D.; Coyne, P. J.; Dodson, P.; Parker, G. (2012). "ABH Gel is Not Absorbed from the Skin of Normal Volunteers". Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. 43 (5): 961–966. doi:10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2011.05.017. PMID 22560361.
    • Weschules, D. J. (2005). "Tolerability of the Compound ABHR in Hospice Patients". Journal of Palliative Medicine. 8 (6): 1135–1143. doi:10.1089/jpm.2005.8.1135. PMID 16351526.
  27. Marx, WM; Teleni L; McCarthy AL; Vitetta L; McKavanagh D; Thomson D; Isenring E. (2013). "Ginger (Zingiber officinale) and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting: a systematic literature review". Nutr Rev. 71 (4): 245–54. doi:10.1111/nure.12016. PMID 23550785.
  28. Ernst, E.; Pittler, M.H. (1 March 2000). "Efficacy of ginger for nausea and vomiting: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials" (PDF). British Journal of Anesthesia. 84 (3): 367–371. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.bja.a013442. PMID 10793599. Retrieved 6 September 2006.
  29. Lee, A; Chan, SK; Fan, LT (2 November 2015). "Stimulation of the wrist acupuncture point PC6 for preventing postoperative nausea and vomiting.". The Cochrane database of systematic reviews. 11: CD003281. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD003281.pub4. PMID 26522652.
  30. "Bulimia Nervosa-Topic Overview". WebMD. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
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