Most people experience nausea at some point. Nausea can feel like a sudden, intense urge to vomit or a chronic, low level sense of discomfort and mild dizziness.
Women with sudden nausea may wonder if it is an early sign of pregnancy. One study found that 63.3% of pregnant women feel nausea during early pregnancy.
Nausea feels slightly different to everyone. The specific symptoms a person has may not help in identifying a cause. However, monitoring how symptoms change over time, and when they first appear, may help with diagnosis.
Nausea usually feels like the urge to vomit. Not all people who feel nauseated throw up, but many have the overwhelming sensation that throwing up would help them feel better.
Some people also experience abdominal pain, dizziness, headaches or muscle pain, intense fatigue, or a generalized feeling of sickness.
It is impossible to tell whether a person is pregnant from nausea symptoms alone.
The best way to assess whether someone is pregnant is for them to take a pregnancy test. Sometimes, it takes a few days for pregnancy hormones to increase enough to produce a positive result. If an initial pregnancy test result is negative, a person should try testing again in a few days.
False-positive pregnancy tests are rare when someone is pregnant and tend to occur more with blood testing.
When the sperm fertilizes an egg, the resulting embryo implants in the lining of the uterus, and the body begins producing human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). This pregnancy hormone helps sustain early pregnancy and is the hormone that a home pregnancy test measures.
When a person experiences nausea during pregnancy, they may notice that symptoms begin with mild nausea that gets steadily worse during the first trimester. For most women, nausea improves at the end of the first trimester.
Some other signs of pregnancy nausea include:
- intense fatigue
- nausea that is worse at certain times of day
- food or smell aversions
- nausea that certain foods make worse
Most people with pregnancy nausea do not have abdominal pain or cramping.
Nausea due to causes other than pregnancy may occur alongside other symptoms, including:
- stomach pain
- diarrhea or constipation
The specific symptoms depend on the reason for nausea.
For example, a person with gallstones or a liver health issue may experience pain in the upper right side of the abdomen. The pain may also radiate to the back or right shoulder.
A person with kidney stones might experience intense pain in the lower back or groin.
Nausea is one of the most common symptoms people experience. Sometimes, nausea goes away on its own after a few hours or days and does not return.
Severe nausea that appears suddenly along with a fever, vomiting, or diarrhea may signal a gastrointestinal (GI) bug.
Some GI infections, such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli (E. coli), can be dangerous in very young people and those with weaker immune systems or bodies.
Some other potential causes include:
- neurological issues, such as a traumatic brain injury
- liver or pancreas issues, such as gallstones or fatty liver disease
- endocrine system problems, such as
- peptic ulcers
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- various disorders, such as Meniere’s disease that can cause dizziness
- appendicitis, especially if a person has stomach pain that begins in the center of the abdomen and moves to the lower right side
- problems with the ovaries, such as an ovarian torsion or ruptured ovarian cyst
- migraine headaches
- a blockage in the stomach or intestines
Nausea that lasts many weeks can be due to an underlying chronic disease. Nausea that lasts for just a brief period may signal an infection. Nausea that comes and goes may be a sign of food sensitivities or a chronic illness.
Rarely, nausea may signal a medical emergency or a severe infection.
When symptoms are severe, appear suddenly, or a person has other symptoms, such as heart palpitations or fainting, it could signal a problem with the heart, a systemic infection, or serious organ damage.
Treatment for nausea depends on its cause. When there is a serious problem, such as acute gallbladder disease, a person may need surgery.
Antibiotics can treat certain infections. When a virus is a culprit, however, a person must wait for the body to fight off the infection.
Some potential treatments for nausea include:
- electrolyte drinks to help replace fluids and chemicals a person loses when vomiting
- intravenous (IV) fluid for someone who is very dehydrated
- antinausea drugs
- lifestyle changes for morning sickness, such as eating smaller or more frequent meals
- Unisom and vitamin B6 for pregnancy-related nausea
- diet changes to avoid foods that trigger nausea
- medications for chronic illnesses
For more information on treating nausea symptoms at home, read here.
Call a doctor if:
- nausea and vomiting last longer than a few days or get steadily worse
- a person develops a high fever
- a person cannot keep down any fluids
- nausea disappears and then comes back
- symptoms do not improve after trying treatment a doctor prescribes
- there are other symptoms, such as a headache or severe abdominal pain
Go to the emergency room if:
- there is blood in the stool
- there is also abdominal pain that is intense or unbearable
- nausea follows a blow to the abdomen or head
- a person has a history of liver disease
- a person feels extremely ill and nauseated
Nausea can feel awful, making it difficult to function or even think clearly. Yet, nausea often goes away on its own, without treatment.
Nausea is a common symptom of early pregnancy, but if someone suspects they are pregnant, they should take a pregnancy test for an accurate diagnosis.
People with chronic or severe nausea may have a wide range of conditions, so people should not try to self-diagnose. If the reason for the nausea is unclear, they should see their doctor or another healthcare provider.