Can’t shake that queasy feeling? Here’s how to feel better in no time.
There’s nothing worse than when you start to get that sick, queasy feeling deep in the pit of your stomach. If you’re not already puking (the absolute worst), it can leave you feeling dizzy, disoriented, and down for the count until you get to the root of the problem.
“Nausea is a very general symptom that can occur in a wide variety of illnesses and as a normal process of your body’s regulation,” says Jayme Hoch, DO, a family medicine physician at Mayo Clinic Health System.
That’s the tricky part: It seems like everything and anything can make you feel nauseous. Stomach flu or food poisoning, motion sickness, early pregnancy, and overeating are common causes.
When your stomach starts rumbling, anti-nausea medications—like Emetrol and Dramamine-N—can help you find relief fast in most cases. If you don’t want to go for meds, some people also find relief from mildly scented oils such as peppermint, lavender, or ginger. (These 15 stomach-soothing remedies are a safe bet, too.)
Still, there are lots of other stomach-turners that may need a little extra attention. Here, eight reasons you can’t shake that queasy feeling—and how you to keep your stomach feeling happy moving forward.
You’re about to get a migraine
Why migraines occur is not fully understood. But they are often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. There are multiple theories on how migraines cause nausea, however.
Experts believe the brain chemical serotonin plays a role. The theory? Serotonin sends signals to the blood vessels in your brain, telling them to grow bigger, which can sometimes activate the part of your brain responsible for nausea and vomiting, explains Christine Lee, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
“Another theory is that migraines influence the part of the brain that is linked to inner ear disturbance, hence the strong correlation with vertigo and dizziness with the symptom of nausea,” Dr. Lee explains.
✖️Nix the nausea: “To prevent migraines, you should avoid common triggers that cause your migraines, including emotional stress, bright lights, strong odors, lack of sleep and not eating,” Dr. Hoch says.
Anxiety can increase activation of your autonomic nervous system, specifically your ‘fight or flight’ reaction,” Dr. Hoch says. When this happens, more of your blood flows to your muscles instead of the organs that make up your digestive system, which causes nausea.
Stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and others also get dumped into your blood, which spikes the number of contractions in your stomach, creating that queasy feeling, Dr. Lee says.
✖️Nix the nausea: The best thing you can do to avoid future bouts of nausea is to find a way to manage your anxiety, says Dr. Hoch. That might mean practicing self-relaxation techniques, going to counseling, exercising, or taking medications prescribed by your doctor. These eight natural anxiety remedies are a good place to start.
Dehydration occurs when your body doesn’t have enough water to carry out its normal processes—meaning the symptoms go beyond feeling super thirsty.
“When you have less fluid circulating in your body, your body preferentially sends that fluid and your blood flow to the organs it sees as most important—your brain and your heart,” says Dr. Hoch. “This can cause decreased blood flow to the organs of your gastrointestinal tract, causing nausea and abdominal pain.”
✖️Nix the nausea: Filling up on lots of fluids is key. While the ideal amount of water needed varies from person to person, most adults should get anywhere from 11 to 16 cups per day, says Dr. Hoch. That may sound like a lot, but you don’t need to chug from a water bottle to hit that amount. Tea and coffee, seltzer, vegetables like cucumbers and tomatoes, as well as fruits like watermelon all count toward your daily water intake.
Your blood sugar is too low
Your hormones work to regulate your blood sugar levels. But if your blood sugar starts to dip too low (known as hypoglycemia), certain hormones (like glucagon and epinephrine) spike to help your body produce more glucose. When this happens, your stomach experiences a surge in signals that can create the sensation of nausea, says Dr. Lee.
“Low blood sugar can also affect your autonomic nervous system, similar to the mechanism of nausea associated with anxiety,” says Dr. Hoch.
✖️Nix the nausea: To help keep your blood sugar steady, go for foods on the lower end of the glycemic index (GI), says Dr. Hoch. The GI measures how quickly the carbs in various foods are broken down to sugar and released into your blood. Most fruits, non-starchy vegetables, legumes, and oats are all great options, according to the American Heart Association.
The timing of your meals matters, too. “Hypoglycemia can be prevented by consuming small frequent meals throughout the day,” says Dr. Hoch. Keep your portion sizes under control, include a mix of lean protein, quality fats, and low-GI carbs (like bulgar, sweet potatoes, and corn), and aim to eat every 3 to 4 hours.
You have acid reflux
According to Dr. Lee, “gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause nausea due to the splashing of gastric acid up and out of the stomach into the lower esophagus,” the tube that connects your mouth and stomach.
This acid can damage the lining of your esophagus, which can make you feel nauseous. Other common symptoms of acid reflux include chest pain, heartburn, trouble swallowing food, or feeling like you have a lump in your throat.
✖️Nix the nausea: Avoid overeating, smoking, drinking too much caffeine or alcohol, and eating spicy, fatty, or acidic foods. These things can make all of the symptoms associated with your acid reflux feel worse, says Dr. Hoch.
It can also be helpful to stay upright for at least 30 minutes following meals. Medications, like Zantac or Nexium, also work to tame your heartburn. (These six natural remedies for acid reflux can help you find relief, too.)
You may have peptic ulcers
Peptic ulcers—most commonly caused by an infection from an H.plyori bacteria—occur when acid penetrates deep into the mucosal lining of your stomach, causing an open sore. This can lead to burning stomach pain, bloating, heartburn, and nausea, says Dr. Lee.
✖️Nix the nausea: To heal your ulcers, your doc will typically describe antibiotics or drugs to slow the production of stomach acid to aid in the healing process. You might also need to avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen and naproxen) and steroids since they can increase your risk of peptic ulcers, says Dr. Lee. Alcohol, smoking, and spicy foods can also make your symptoms worse.
To prevent peptic ulcers from coming back, remember to keep things clean. “Good hand washing hygiene is important to avoid contracting an H. pylori infection, which is contracted through fecal or oral transmission,” says Dr. Lee. This means you should lather your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds (be sure to get between your fingers and under your nails).
Your allergies are getting the best of you
Along with watery eyes, an itchy throat, and constant sneezing, seasonal allergies can cause post-nasal drip, meaning excess mucous in your nose trickles down the back of your throat rather than out of your nostrils. This can easily irritate your throat or cause a cough, but when that mucous makes it’s way down your esophagus and into your stomach, nausea may hit.
✖️Nix the nausea: First thing’s first—try to avoid anything that seems to trigger your allergies (sorry, early morning farmers’ market). Keeping your mucous under control with some over-the-counter allergy meds—like NasalCrom Spray and Claritin—can also help. Just be sure to discuss with your doc. If your allergies become unbearable overall, he or she may recommend prescription-strength medication or even an allergy shot.
You popped a pill on an empty stomach.
“Nausea is a common side effect of many different medications including antidepressants, blood pressure medications, oral contraceptives, pain medications, antibiotics, and many more,” says Dr. Hoch. Your gut processes food by releasing stomach acid—so when you take a pill before you eat, that acid will still be released, causing irritation or nausea, says Dr. Hoch.
✖️Nix the nausea: First, try taking your meds with food to see if it helps settle your stomach. If the medication itself is actually making you nauseous, talk to your doc about testing out the lowest dose. You may also need to cut out other unnecessary medications or supplements, says Dr. Hoch.