Nausea may occur due to acid reflux, which is a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It can also result from other conditions, such as anxiety, stress, and motion sickness.
GERD is a common digestive disorder wherein acids, foods, or fluids travel from the stomach up into the esophagus.
Nausea is a feeling of uneasiness or discomfort in the stomach. Although the severity of nausea can range from uncomfortable to debilitating, several medically approved treatments can reduce or eliminate acid reflux-induced nausea.
This article looks at GERD, nausea, and some remedies in more detail.
GERD is a chronic condition wherein stomach acids and food particles travel from the stomach up into the esophagus.
The cause can be either physiological or pathological.
Normal physiological reflux occurs in varying degrees after eating a meal. These physiological events happen in short intervals and do not cause any symptoms.
Pathological GERD can occur for a variety of reasons, including:
- certain dietary habits
- certain lifestyle habits, such as eating late at night
- an impairment or injury affecting the lower esophageal sphincter that causes it not to function correctly to prevent stomach contents from being regurgitated
- the presence of a stomach hernia, such as a hiatal hernia
Is it heartburn or GERD?
Many people experience occasional episodes of gastroesophageal reflux (GER). These can cause a burning sensation, or heartburn, in the middle of the chest that moves up toward the throat.
This tends to occur because esophageal tissues are sensitive to stomach acids and can sustain damage.
However, if a person experiences acid reflux more than twice per week, the condition is more likely to be GERD. The symptoms are generally severe and may disrupt daily life or keep a person awake at night.
It is unclear why GERD tends to cause nausea, though it may be related to the way acid reflux happens.
Generally, after a person takes in liquids or foods, the lower esophageal sphincter closes to prevent any food particles or stomach acids from flowing back up into the esophagus.
When the lower esophageal sphincter does not function properly, however, a person may experience acid reflux.
In turn, the acid reflux may result in a sour taste in a person’s mouth, along with coughing or burping. This can lead to a feeling of nausea.
GERD is one of several digestive disorders that may cause nausea. Common disorders include:
Typically, nausea is not the only symptom of chronic digestive disorders. A person may also experience:
- abdominal bloating or fullness
- gas or belching
- heartburn or indigestion
- diarrhea, constipation, or both
- abdominal pain and cramping
- reactions or intolerance to specific foods or food groups
The treatment for digestive disorders will vary depending on the cause. It may involve a combination of medications, dietary or lifestyle changes, and medical procedures.
There are several symptoms associated with GERD, but the most common is chronic, severe heartburn.
Other symptoms may include:
- pain when swallowing
- erosion of tooth enamel and cavities
- bad breath
- difficulty swallowing
When to seek medical advice
A person should seek immediate medical advice if they experience any of the following:
- no change in symptoms despite taking over-the-counter (OTC) antacids
- dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing
- globus sensation, or a feeling that something is stuck in the throat
- weight loss
- loss of appetite
Without treatment, GERD may develop into more serious conditions, including:
- esophagitis, or inflammation of the tissues lining the esophagus, which may cause ulcers or bleeding
- benign esophageal stricture, wherein the esophagus narrows and interferes with swallowing
- Barrett’s esophagus, which involves cell changes that can lead to esophageal adenocarcinoma, a type of cancer
Medication side effects
If a person takes medications for GERD — such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), antacids, or H2 blockers — there may be side effects.
These may include:
- upset stomach
Taking PPIs may also increase the risk of developing a serious bacterial intestinal infection called Clostridioides difficile.
Some risk factors for GERD include:
In most cases, people can manage GERD with lifestyle changes, medications, and home remedies.
Some lifestyle changes that can help treat GERD include:
- losing weight, if applicable, or maintaining a moderate weight
- quitting smoking
- sleeping with the head elevated
- eating meals at least 3 hours before lying down or going to bed
- following a healthy, balanced diet
- staying hydrated
- avoiding or limiting foods and drinks that trigger or worsen GERD symptoms
- eating smaller meals
- avoiding fizzy or carbonated drinks
Some medications, available both over the counter and with a prescription, may also help a person manage GERD.
These medications include:
- antacids, which help relieve mild symptoms
- alginic acid medications, which create a foam barrier to reflux
- H2 blockers, which lower the amount of acid the stomach produces and may allow the lining of the esophagus to heal
- PPIs, which also lower stomach acid production and may be more effective than H2 blockers in allowing the lining of the esophagus to heal
- anti-nausea medications
If GERD does not improve with medications or lifestyle changes, noninvasive procedures or surgery may be necessary. Surgery may be the best option if someone does not want to take medications long term.
Some common procedures for treating GERD include:
- Fundoplication: This is the most common type of surgery for GERD. It involves a surgeon sewing the top of the stomach around the end of the esophagus to add pressure to the lower esophageal sphincter. This can be a form of open surgery, or a surgeon can perform it laparoscopically, using a tiny lighted tube that they insert through a series of small cuts.
- Bariatric surgery: This type of surgery, also known as gastric bypass surgery, can improve weight loss and GERD symptoms. It reduces the size of the stomach.
- Endoscopy: This noninvasive procedure uses a flexible camera to help a doctor evaluate the stomach and esophagus and make a diagnosis of GERD. The procedure may be therapeutic, such as during the application of radiofrequency ablation to the area of the esophagus that Barrett’s esophagus affects.
Avoiding or limiting certain foods and drinks may help manage GERD symptoms, including any associated nausea.
Some foods and drinks that may trigger or worsen GERD symptoms include:
- acidic items, such as tomatoes and citrus
- coffee and other sources of caffeine
- fatty or fried foods
- spicy foods
GERD symptoms include severe, chronic heartburn, feelings of nausea, and regurgitation.
A person may be able to manage the condition by making lifestyle changes and taking OTC or prescription medications. Some people may require surgery.
If a person experiences unexplained chest pain or pressure or a sensation of trapped stomach contents in the esophagus, they need immediate medical attention.