Turns out, plenty of other things can make your stomach churn that have nothing to do with babies or bad food. Here are six unexpected things that might result in feeling nauseous – plus what you can do to make it go away stat.
Feeling nauseous can be super stressful. Once the feeling hits, you probably start tracing your food choices over the last few days or, if pregnancy is a possibility, you might be thinking about your last cycle.
But if you know you’re not pregnant, and you didn’t eat anything funky, you might find yourself asking, “Why do I feel nauseous?”
1. You’re feeling stressed or anxious
Even though stress is an emotion, it causes a cascade of physical changes in your body. Including in your gut, which is highly sensitive to negative feelings, explains Randy Wexler, M.D., an internist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Your gut is lined with nerves that work to expand and contract to push food through your digestive tract. But when you’re stressed or anxious, your brain sends signals to those nerves that cause additional contractions. All those contractions mess up your gut’s normal rhythm, which can leave you feeling nauseous. And you don’t have to be majorly upset to feel the effects. Even minor stress can leave you feeling nauseous, Dr. Wexler says.
Pausing to take a few deep breaths can help you feel calmer, which could help ease your nausea. Another option: Sip a cup of ginger tea or chew on a piece of candied ginger, says Kristine Arthur, M.D., an internist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. The spicy root has properties that are thought to ease nausea.
2. You might be hungry
When you’ve gone several hours without eating, your blood sugar can get too low. (Especially if the last thing you ate was mostly carbs, like a plain bagel or cookies.) That can leave you dizzy and nauseous like you’re going to pass out, says Dr. Arthur.
The fix? Eat something that’s high in carbs – like a glass of fruit juice, a piece of fresh or dried fruit, or bread. “Candy will also work if healthier options aren’t available,” Dr. Arthur says. Getting sugar into your system will bring your blood sugar back up to normal, so you start to feel better. (Steer clear of foods that are high in fat or protein. They won’t raise your blood sugar and can actually slow the absorption of carbs.)
3. You might need to drink some water
Feeling nauseous might just be your unsettled stomach telling you to swig more H20. And we’re not talking about day-in-the-desert-without water dehydrated. For some people, even mild dehydration could mess with your stomach, Dr. Wexler says.
You’ll probably know if your nausea is caused from dehydration if you also feel, well, really thirsty. So if that’s the case, drink up. Usually, plain water is fine, says Dr. Wexler. But if you have signs of severe dehydration – like fatigue, dizziness, or confusion – seek medical attention right away.
4. It might be your medications
Plenty of medications – even supplements and over-the-counter meds – can leave you feeling nauseous. Sometimes, popping an over-the-counter pain reliever (like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or an NSAID) on an empty stomach can actually cause you to feel nauseous. Without some food in your belly to act as a buffer, the components of some pills can be irritating to the lining of the stomach, Dr. Wexler says. Supplements like vitamins C, E, and iron can have a similar effect.
If it’s been more than an hour or two since your last meal, you can keep discomfort at bay by eating something small. “Often, just a piece of bread or a few crackers will suffice,” Dr. Wexler says. Just be sure to have your snack before you take your vitamins or meds, so it can coat your stomach. Eating afterward won’t usually help, says Dr. Wexler.
5. It might be a migraine
As if migraines weren’t bad enough, they can also cause some people to feel nauseous. Experts don’t fully understand why a migraine can leave you feeling like you have to puke. What they do know? Migraines can cause dizziness and blurry vision, which can make you nauseous.
If you feel a migraine coming on, taking an OTC pain reliever might help, says Dr. Arthur. (Just be sure to have it with a small snack like crackers. And drink plenty of water, since dehydration can make headaches and nausea worse.) And if OTC pain meds don’t work, talk with your doctor. They can prescribe prescription migraine meds that may be more helpful.
6. It might be an ear infection
If you feel pressure in your ear along with nausea, it could be an infection. Good news: That’s totally treatable. The canals in your inner ears play an important role in helping you maintain your balance. But an infection can cause changes to the normal fluid levels in one ear, Dr. Arthur says. When that happens, your brain gets a signal that the pressure in your infected ear is different than the pressure in your healthy ear. And those mixed signals can leave you feeling nauseous and dizzy.
How can you tell if an ear infection is making your stomach hurt? “Typically, an ear infection causes ear pain, a feeling of pressure in the ear, changes in hearing, nasal congestion, headache, and fever,” Dr. Arthur says. If you notice these symptoms, see your doctor. They will prescribe antibiotics to fight the infection, and you’ll start feeling better within a couple of days.
Here’s when you should see a doctor about feeling nauseous.
Some of the issues we’ve listed above can be easily alleviated with home care, but some of them – like severe dehydration or ear infections – require you to see your health provider. But are there telltale signs that you should pay your doctor a visit? Yes.
Since nausea is usually accompanied by the urge to vomit, the Mayo Clinic says that any nausea and vomiting that lasts more than two days for adults, 24 hours for children under 2-years-old, or 12 hours for infants should be met with medical attention. Even if your bouts with feeling nauseous or vomiting don’t last for several days, if you have episodes that continue longer than one month, you should definitely see your doctor, the Mayo Clinic explains.
Other signs that you should seek medical attention include chest pain, severe stomach pain and cramping, blurred vision, confusion, fever, stiff neck, or if your vomit contains blood or fecal matter, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Even if you’re not dealing with any of these issues, it’s totally fine to reach out to your doctor or health-care provider for a little clarity if you’re feeling nauseous. Getting a bit of comfort and medical advice might not make the wooziness go away immediately, but it will certainly keep you calmer while you wait for it to pass.