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Nausea - an indispensable protective reflex 

If an unpleasant, weak feeling spreads in your stomach, it lets the alarm bells ring: Anyone suffering from nausea always fears that they might vomit soon. Depending on the severity of the nausea symptoms, everyday tasks can become a burden. Treating nausea, however, is often problematic - the causes can be diverse. So what can be the reason for it? And how can you rid yourself of nausea and vomiting? 

Woman suffering from nausea is holding her head with her hands

This is what causes nausea 

A sufferer may feel annoyed about nausea, but actually it is a very useful device. As a clear warning signal, it unmistakably lets your body know: something is wrong. If the stomach or the first sections of the small intestine sets off the alarm bells (for example, because of irritating substances in your diet), it may manifest itself in the form of nausea. The person affected feels sick and they know: they must be (particularly) careful. They should make sure to avoid this stomach irritant in the future. In many cases, nausea presages subsequent vomiting. 

The body knows about this sensitivity of the gastrointestinal tract. To protect itself from harmful influences, it developed mechanisms to get rid of pollutants, pathogens or unpleasant stimuli as quickly as possible. On one hand, harmful digestive tract contents can be eliminated through diarrhoea as soon as possible, on the other hand harmful substances can be removed from the body before they even enter the digestive process - through vomiting. 

Which early signals indicate vomiting?

Nausea does not necessarily mean that you are going to vomit. Often the irritation that alerts stomach and intestines will disappear on its own. If this is not the case, the feeling of uneasiness in the stomach can develop quickly. If vomiting is imminent, it usually announces itself right away by some clear signs: 

  • Paleness in the face 
  • The feeling of nausea is getting stronger 
  • Break out of cold sweat  
  • The production of saliva increases rapidly - the body does that to protect the teeth from the aggressive stomach acids 

Especially when it comes to the last sign, it only takes a few moments before the person afflicted has to vomit. 

Causes of nausea and vomiting 

Nausea and vomiting are indispensable protective functions of the body. Triggers and the internal process are coordinated exactly. For example, if we perceive a disgusting smell, the olfactory nerves of the nose quickly pass the information on to the vomiting centre of the brain. If the nerves in the stomach and the small intestine encounter suspicious substances during digestion, they do the same. They immediately send nerve signals to the vomiting centre - the person affected becomes sick. If a certain threshold is exceeded, the vomiting centre responds: It coordinates with the respiratory centre and the cardiovascular system and commands both the intestinal musculature and the diaphragm to violently contract. The contents of the stomach and small intestine are thus pressed out of the body with great force - the person afflicted vomits. 

There are countless triggers and causes for nausea or even vomiting - from mild, easy-to-remedy triggers, to serious causes that may require immediate medical attention: 

  • Disgust  
  • Stress 
  • Travel sickness 
  • Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol 
  • Migraine 
  • Infections 
  • Gastritis 
  • Food intolerance 
  • Functional gastrointestinal disorders, like irritable stomach  
  • Colics 
  • Pyelonephritis 
  • Appendicitis 

All these factors and many more can be responsible for the onset of nausea. In any case, nausea and vomiting are signs that something is wrong within the body. So don´t ignore these warning signals. 

Causes of chronic, permanent or recurrent nausea 

Chronic, constant or recurrent nausea can have many causes. The most usually cited one is pregnancy. But also allergies, food intolerances or disorders like irritable stomach (functional dyspepsia) and irritable bowel syndrome may go along with recurrent nausea. Often nausea occurs after ingestion, which is why people with chronic nausea develop immediate anxiety about eating. Some people lose so much weight from chronic nausea that they may be considered anorexic, which they are not.  

But the causes are not always to be found in the gastrointestinal tract. In addition to the frequent triggers, diseases of the kidneys, the heart or high blood pressure can also cause nausea. For this reason, it is important to consult a doctor, when nausea occurs repeatedly. 

Chronic nausea is diagnosed when the following factors apply: 

  • Nausea is bothersome (severe enough to impact usual activities). It occurs at least one day per week and/or there are one or more vomiting episodes per week.  
  • Self-induced vomiting, eating disorders, regurgitation, or rumination are excluded. 
  • There is no evidence of organic, systemic, or metabolic diseases that is likely to explain the symptoms on routine investigations (including at upper endoscopy). 

Combination between nausea and other symptoms 

Nausea is a symptom that can be associated with a variety of other GI symptoms like acid reflux, belching, heartburn, and more. 

Reflux means "to flow back". In this case it means that stomach contents partly flows back into the oesophagus. Nausea is often associated with reflux, but may depend on a lot of factors and individual susceptibility.  Often there are problems with the sphincter muscle between stomach and oesophagus, but reflux itself is normal to a certain degree. Simply put, the backflowing gastric juice can irritate the nerve endings in the wall of the oesophagus, which then may transmit a signal to the vomiting centre as well. If your nerves are especially sensitive, they would respond even more.  

Nausea often occurs in combination with other gastrointestinal diseases and complaints, such as: 

  • Acid reflux (as described above) 
  • Heartburn 
  • Burping  
  • Irritable stomach 
  • Gastric pressure 
  • Indigestion 
  • Kidney disease 
  • Inflammation of the liver (hepatitis)
  • High blood pressure 

These symptoms are possible, but not necessarily the reason of nausea. Please consult your doctor if you suffer from prolonged nausea (it occurs at least one day per week and/or there are one or more vomiting episodes per week), or if it is accompanied by other symptoms such as severe pain in the gastrointestinal area. Your physicians can determine the cause and initiate the most suitable therapy for you. 

Pregnant woman sits next to her child daughter, who holds her time hand on mothers belly.

Nausea during pregnancy – first and last trimester 

Nausea occurs more often in the first few weeks of pregnancy. The nausea usually begins on the 7th and lasts until about the 20th week of pregnancy, but can also occur later through hormones in the body and the burden on the uterus from the 31st week of pregnancy.  

This may help against nausea during pregnancy: 

  • Distribute the meals throughout the day and reduce the pressure in the stomach. 
  • Continue to drink a lot and provide your body with vitamins and minerals. For nausea it may help to drink still water and herbal teas such as chamomile and mint tea. This relieves the feeling of a weak stomach. 
  • When you eat, you should eat smaller quantities. Easy to digest are for example: 
  • Dried fruits 
  • Crackers 
  • Rusks 
  • Bananas 
  • Ginger 

If you would like to alleviate your complaints with medication, please discuss this always with your doctor beforehand. 

Home remedies for nausea 

It is worth a try to treat nausea (that has no serious cause) with home remedies. 

Reducing coffee, alcohol, nicotine and sour juices like orange juice can help.

Fennel can have a calming effect on the stomach. When fullness is the cause of nausea, the valuable ingredients of caraway can resolve stomach complaints. 

Drinking more fluids can be helpful as well: a cup of warm peppermint, chamomile or ginger tea or a freshly sliced slice of lemon poured into a glass of water. 

Fresh air can also help against nausea - you could take a short walk outside or open your windows. 

Of course, it is always best to avoid the causes of nausea right away - if you know your triggers. Not all household remedies help all those affected. People are different and everyone reacts differently. Therefore it is advisable to try it out and - if you have found the right remedy for you – do it at the first signs of nausea. 

Stethoscope with blue rubber parts, lying on a sheet of data regarding nausea

How to properly treat nausea?

A visit to the doctor is advisable should the symptoms get worse, last for several days or are accompanied by other symptoms such as severe pain in the gastrointestinal area. Describing the course of the disease and physical examinations help to diagnose the specific cause of the nausea. 

In the subsequent treatment, do not only seek relief from your symptoms, but target the underlying triggers and causes. Treatment with Iberogast® relieves nausea as a symptom of irritable stomach, also known as functional dyspepsia. The plant-based liquid soothes the hypersensitive gastric nerves, protects the gastric mucosa and normalises movements of the muscles in the gastrointestinal area.

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Disturbances in the gastrointestinal tract are usually not only extremely unpleasant and associated with numerous complaints, they often make a normal everyday life even harder. It’s good that there is Iberogast®: The combination of nine medicinal plants targets both the underlying causes and the annoying symptoms. 

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