What are nausea and fatigue?
Do you feel nauseous and tired all the time, but don’t know why? Nausea (also called feeling sick) is an uneasy feeling in your stomach, like you want to be sick (vomit). And fatigue is when you feel really tired and lack the energy you need to do normal activities.
Feeling sick and tired often happen separately, but sometimes both can strike at the same time. This can be due to a number of things, including your diet and lifestyle, emotional and mental (psychological) factors or a medical condition.
Many causes of nausea and fatigue are treatable, and the symptoms get better once you’ve addressed the cause. But sometimes, having nausea and fatigue at the same time can be a sign of a more serious condition that needs medical attention.
Common causes of feeling sick and tired
If you’ve been feeling really tired and like you might be sick, here are a few possible causes of your symptoms.
Diet and lifestyle
The foods you eat and the things you do each day can cause nausea and tiredness without you realising it. For example, drinking too much coffee or alcohol can sap you of energy in the long term and make you feel nauseous.
Jet lag from recent travel, skipping meals, not getting enough sleep, and doing too much or too little exercise can also bring on these symptoms. So, if you’re feeling sick and very tired, it’s worth taking a close look at your diet and lifestyle.
Gastroenteritis, also known as a stomach or tummy bug, is a common gut infection that’s typically caused by bacteria or viruses. Not only does it cause tiredness and nausea, it can also cause other symptoms, like vomiting, diarrhoea and tummy cramps.
The bacteria and viruses that cause gastroenteritis are often caught from close contact with an infected person or by eating contaminated food, so pay attention to who you’ve been in contact with and what you’ve eaten or drunk recently.
Stress, anxiety and depression
Emotional and mental factors, like stress and anxiety, can sometimes cause physical symptoms like nausea and tiredness. And, while feeling very low is the key symptom of depression, it can also make you feel very tired and may cause nausea, bloating and cramps in some cases.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)
If your tiredness doesn’t go away, no matter how much rest you get, you may have chronic fatigue syndrome – an ongoing condition that can affect your everyday life. In addition to fatigue, you may notice you have nausea and other symptoms, like headaches, sleeping problems and joint or muscle pain.
Tiredness and nausea are common symptoms during early pregnancy – this is usually due to the hormonal changes your body goes through. You’re less likely to feel sick later on in your pregnancy, as morning sickness (feeling and being sick during pregnancy) usually gets better by the 20th week of pregnancy. But you may still feel tired as you get closer to your due date because you’re carrying extra weight from your baby.
Nerve and brain (neurological) issues
Certain problems with your nervous system can sometimes bring on fatigue with sickness. These may include:
- migraines – if you have a migraine, you may notice additional symptoms, like a headache, being sick, and sensitivity to light and sound. A migraine can also make you feel really tired, even after it’s passed
- concussion – if you’ve recently had a bump or blow to the head, you may develop concussion. If this happens, not only may you feel sick and find it hard to stay awake, you may also have a headache, feel dizzy and have trouble remembering things. A concussion is a medical emergency, but it’s not always easy to spot it, so see a doctor if you’ve recently hurt your head
- brain tumour – while rare, a brain tumour can cause fatigue and nausea, as well as other symptoms like headaches, memory problems, fits (seizures) and a change in your behaviour
Hormone and mineral imbalances
Sometimes, nausea and fatigue can be a sign that certain hormones or minerals in your body are higher or lower than they should be. Examples of these imbalances include:
- hypercalcaemia (when you have too much calcium in your blood) – this doesn't always cause symptoms, but when it does, it may include constipation, fatigue, nausea, muscle weakness, feeling very thirsty and peeing more than normal
- Addison’s disease
When to see a doctor about nausea and fatigue
While nausea and fatigue aren’t usually signs of something serious, they may sometimes suggest that you have an underlying condition that needs urgent medical attention – especially if you also notice other specific symptoms.
Go to a hospital or call an ambulance if you’ve got nausea and fatigue, and you:
- think you may have swallowed something poisonous
- keep being sick (vomiting) and can’t keep fluids down
- have been vomiting for more than 2 days or have had diarrhoea for longer than a week
- have bloody diarrhoea or are bleeding from your bottom
- are vomiting blood, bright green vomit or something that looks like ground coffee
- have a stiff neck, pain when looking at bright lights or a really bad headache that started suddenly
- recently injured your head and you feel confused or less alert than normal
- have a swollen tummy or tummy pain
- have chest pain or pain that spreads to your arms, back, neck or jaw
- have shortness of breath
- are pregnant and develop sudden tummy pain
You should also see a doctor as soon as possible if you’ve got nausea and fatigue, and:
- you’ve been losing weight without meaning to
- you have an ongoing fever, night sweats or swollen lymph nodes around your body
- you have muscle weakness and/or pain, joint pain and unexplained rashes
- you have a headache and muscle pains
- you still feel sick after a few days
- your symptoms go away and come back
- your symptoms are affecting your daily life
Treatment for nausea and fatigue
There are some things you can do to ease nausea in general, including getting plenty of fresh air, drinking ginger or peppermint tea and eating smaller meals. Read more about natural remedies for nausea.
And if you have really bad nausea, a doctor may give you medication, known as antiemetics, to help you stop feeling sick.
Fatigue can often get better with general measures like getting more high-quality sleep. But while these strategies can help your symptoms, the best treatment for nausea and fatigue usually depends on the cause.
Diet and lifestyle
If your diet and lifestyle are making you feel sick and tired, making some changes may help. Consider:
- cutting down on alcohol and caffeine
- getting between 7 and 8 hours of sleep each night
- not smoking or using recreational drugs – speak to a doctor for advice on how to quit
- avoiding stress and being too busy – read more about how to deal with a stressful job and natural remedies for beating stress
- drinking enough water daily – your pee should be a light straw colour if you’re well hydrated
- exercising often – read more about how to make daily exercise a habit
- drink plenty of water to stay well hydrated
- get lots of rest
- eat small, light meals
- eat plain foods and easy-to-digest foods like rice, bread and pasta
- take simple painkillers to manage a fever or headache – speak to your pharmacist or doctor for guidance on how to safely get and use these medicines
You should usually start to feel better within a week.
Read more about how to treat norovirus at home and how to tell if you have food poisoning or a stomach bug.
Stress, anxiety and depression
If you’ve got nausea and fatigue that’s caused by emotional and mental factors, removing the cause or managing the condition may help improve your symptoms. If your stress levels are high, identify the things that are causing you stress and take steps to better manage your daily schedule to prevent them from piling up on you. Taking up some stress-relieving activities may also help.
There are many ways to manage depression and anxiety, from talking therapies and exercising often, to taking medication. See a doctor for advice on the best treatment for you if you have depression, anxiety or another mood disorder.
Chronic fatigue syndrome
There are many ways to manage this condition and the best approach varies from person to person. But some of the treatments that may help you include:
- a talking therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- slowly increasing the amount of exercise you do each day
- eating in a way that helps you feel less nauseous (e.g. eating smaller meals more often)
- resting when you need to
Read more about how to treat chronic fatigue syndrome.
Try to rest as much as you can and follow these general tips for managing nausea. Often, the nausea caused by morning sickness gets better on its own later in your pregnancy.
While fatigue doesn’t always get better as your pregnancy progresses, you can still help to manage your energy levels by eating a healthy diet and making sure you get lots of rest and sleep.
Nerve and brain (neurological) issues
If a condition related to your brain or nervous system is behind your symptoms, treating the condition should help to improve nausea and vomiting. This may involve resting and taking painkillers if you have a concussion, self-care and medication for conditions like migraines, and medication, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and/or surgery for brain tumours. A doctor will let you know the exact treatment you need to manage your symptoms and its cause.
Hormone and mineral imbalances
When nausea and tiredness are caused by a hormone or mineral imbalance, a doctor will usually do a blood test to see what substance is out of balance in your body. If they find an imbalance, you may need to take medication to balance your hormone or mineral levels, or to treat the cause of the imbalance.
How long does it take for nausea and fatigue to get better?
There are many reasons why you may have nausea and fatigue at the same time. Often, the cause is related to things you can change, like your diet and lifestyle. But sometimes, nausea and fatigue can be caused by a medical condition. It isn’t always easy to tell what’s causing your symptoms, so see a doctor if they don’t get better with self-care, you’re worried or if you have any of the symptoms listed in the ‘When to see a doctor’ section above.
The amount of time it will take for your symptoms to get better usually depends on the cause and the treatments recommended by a doctor.
Your health questions answered
Is there a link between nausea and fatigue and COVID-19?Answered by: Dr Rhianna McClymontLead Doctor at Livi
Yes, fatigue is a common symptom of COVID-19 and is often felt when the infection begins. Some people may feel tired after the infection has passed too. Lung and airway (respiratory) symptoms, like a dry cough, fever and loss of smell, are usually the main symptoms of COVID-19, but some people have had tummy problems, including feeling sick (nausea), being sick (vomiting) and diarrhoea.
Why do I have nausea and fatigue and also an upset stomach or bloating?
Many things can cause this combination of symptoms, including a gut condition like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or an infection such as norovirus or food poisoning. If a gut infection is the cause, your symptoms should usually improve within a week, but if they continue for longer, come back after getting better or you’re worried about them, see a doctor.
Can stress cause nausea and fatigue?
Yes, even though stress feels like an emotional and mental issue, it can sometimes cause physical symptoms like nausea and fatigue. If this is the cause of your symptoms, you may find they improve when you take steps to manage your stress levels. Aside from doing your best to reduce the source of your stress, you may also find that stress-relieving activities, like spending time with friends and exercising, make you feel better.
- many things can cause nausea and fatigue at the same time, including your diet and lifestyle, gastroenteritis, hormone and mineral imbalances, and pregnancy
- nausea and fatigue aren’t usually signs of something serious, but they can sometimes suggest that you have an underlying condition that needs urgent medical attention
- general treatment for feeling sick and tired all the time include drinking ginger or peppermint tea, eating smaller meals and getting enough high-quality sleep every night
- the best treatment for nausea and tiredness depends on the underlying cause of these symptoms
- see a doctor if you have nausea and fatigue that’s accompanied by other symptoms, doesn’t get better in time or if you’re worried about these symptoms