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9th January, 20214 min read

What causes nausea and how can I stop it?

Medical reviewer: Dr Ann Nainan
Author: Helen Prentice
Last reviewed: 04/01/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

It’s quite common to feel sick and it can sometimes come on suddenly, perhaps without you knowing why. While it can be unpleasant, this sick feeling – called nausea – usually goes away by itself.

Nausea can often be caused by eating something that disagrees with your stomach. And when you’re feeling generally unwell, you may be nauseous. But there are lots of other possible causes.

The good news is that in many cases, there are ways you can help to relieve symptoms yourself. Read on to learn about some common causes of nausea, and how to manage them.

Pregnancy

Feeling sick or being sick (vomiting) when you’re pregnant is often called ‘morning sickness’. It’s very common in the early stages of pregnancy and it can happen at any time of day, not just in the morning.

It can be unpleasant, but it won’t usually harm your baby and usually eases or goes away as the pregnancy progresses. There are also things you can do to help you feel better, including making sure you get enough rest, eating little and often, and sticking to plain foods such as toast or crackers.

You should get medical advice if you’re being sick in pregnancy and you’re:

  • unable to keep food and drinks down for 24 hours or more
  • getting very dark pee, or not peeing for more than 8 hours
  • in pain when you pee or have blood in your pee
  • getting dizzy or weak when you stand up
  • having tummy pain
  • losing weight

Medicines

Certain medicines can cause nausea, including some anti-inflammatory drugs and other treatments for joint pain and swelling (arthritis). Tips to help ease the feeling include eating smaller and more frequent meals, choosing foods that are easy to digest, and avoiding sugary drinks and snacks.

It’s also worth talking to your doctor if you think your medication is causing nausea, as they may be able to help.

Alcohol

If you drink too much alcohol, it can lead to feelings of sickness, either when you’re drinking or afterwards – often called a ‘hangover’. For this reason it’s best not to drink more than your body can cope with.

To help avoid a hangover, don’t drink alcohol on an empty stomach. Try to eat a meal that includes carbohydrates, such as pasta, as this will slow down your body’s absorption of alcohol.

If you do feel sick, drink plenty of water, as a hangover makes you dehydrated. You might want to take an antacid to settle your stomach, or try eating thin vegetable soup, which is easy on the stomach and contains nutrients.

Motion sickness

Motion sickness can happen when you’re travelling by car, boat, train or plane, because of the repeated movements involved. But there are several things you can do to ease that sick feeling.

Reducing the amount of movement you feel by sitting in the front of a car or middle of a boat can help, as can looking straight ahead, rather than down. If you’re in a car, opening a window and breathing in the fresh air is a good idea, as is breaking up the journey with regular stops.

You can also ask a pharmacist about motion sickness remedies, including tablets, patches and acupressure bands you wear on your wrists.

Surgery

Feeling sick after having surgery is common, due to the anaesthetic or pain-relieving drugs you are given. It can be made worse if you haven’t been able to eat before or after the operation, too.

Usually, nausea after surgery will only last for a few hours. If you feel very sick, you may be offered anti-sickness medicine to help.

When to see a doctor

If your nausea doesn’t get better after a few days, or you’re feeling sick a lot of the time, it’s worth booking an appointment with your doctor. They will be able to help identify a cause and suggest a treatment, if needed, such as anti-sickness medication.

Key points

  • nausea – feeling sick – can sometimes come on suddenly
  • while unpleasant, it will usually go away by itself
  • feeling nauseous when you’re pregnant is known as ‘morning sickness’
  • other common causes of nausea include some medicines and too much alcohol
  • feeling sick while travelling is known as motion sickness
  • if you’re feeling sick a lot of the time, or it doesn’t get better after a few days, speak to your doctor
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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.

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