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Nausea (Latin nausea, from Greek Template:Polytonic, nausiē, "motion sickness", or "wamble"[1]), is a sensation of unease and discomfort in the upper stomach with an involuntary urge to vomit.[2] An attack of nausea is known as a qualm.

The most common cause is motion sickness (see definition, above), most often in automobiles, followed by gastroenteritis[citation needed] (a stomach infection) or food poisoning but nausea also frequently occurs as a medication side effect and in pregnancy. There are some medications, called antiemetics, that improve symptoms of nausea, including metoclopramide and ondansetron.

Differential diagnosis

The causes of nausea are many. One organization listed 700 in 2009.[3] Gastrointestinal infections (37%) and food poisoning are the two most common causes.[2][4] While side effects from medications (3%) and pregnancy are also relatively frequent.[2][4] In 10% of people the cause remains unknown.[4]

Food poisoning

Food poisoning usually causes an abrupt onset of nausea and vomiting one to six hours after ingestion of contaminated food and lasts for one to two days.[5] It is due to toxins produced by bacteria in the food.[5]


Most medications can potentially cause nausea.[5] Some of the most frequently associated include chemotherapy regimens and general anaesthetic agents.


Nausea or "morning sickness" is a common symptom of pregnancy. In the first trimester nearly 80% of women have some degree of nausea.[6] Pregnancy therefore should. be considered in any women of child bearing age.[5] While usually it is mild and self limiting severe cases known as hyperemesis gravidarum may require treatment.[7]


A number of conditions involving balance such as motion sickness and vertigo can lead to nausea and vomiting.

Potentially serious

While most causes of nausea are not serious some serious causes do occur. These include: diabetic ketoacidosis, surgical problems (pancreatitis, small bowel obstruction, meningitis, appendicitis, cholecystitis), Addisonian crisis, Choledocholithiasis (from gallstones) and hepatitis among others.[2]

Diagnostic approach

Often no investigations are needed, however basic lab tests may be appropriate.[2] If a bowel obstruction is considered, abdominal x-rays may be useful.[2]


If dehydration is present, rehydration with oral electrolyte solutions is preferred.[2] If this is not effective, intravenous rehydration may be required.[2]


Dimenhydrinate (Gravol) is an inexpensive and effective medication for preventing postoperative nausea and vomiting.[8] Meclozine is another antihistamine antiemetic. In certain people, cannabinoids may be effective in reducing chemotherapy associated nausea and vomiting.[9][10] Ondansetron (Zofran) is effective for nausea and vomiting but is expensive.[5] Pyridoxine or metoclopramide are the first line treatments for pregnancy related nausea and vomiting.[7] Medical marijuana may be prescribed where allowed for certain indication.


While short-term nausea and vomiting are generally harmless, they may sometimes indicate a more serious condition. When associated with prolonged vomiting, it may lead to dehydration and/or dangerous electrolyte imbalances.


Nausea and or vomiting is the main complaint in 1.6% of visits to family physicians in Australia.[4] However only 25% of people with nausea visit their family physician.[2] It is most common in those 15–24 years old and less common in other ages.[4]


  1. "Wamble definition". MedTerms Medical Dictionary.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Metz A, Hebbard G (September 2007). "Nausea and vomiting in adults--a diagnostic approach". Aust Fam Physician 36 (9): 688–92. PMID 17885699.
  3. "Differential Diagnosis for Nausea".
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Helena Britt (September 2007). "Presentations of nausea and vomiting". Aust Fam Physician 36 (9): 673–784.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Scorza K, Williams A, Phillips JD, Shaw J (July 2007). "Evaluation of nausea and vomiting". Am Fam Physician 76 (1): 76–84. PMID 17668843.
  6. Koch KL, Frissora CL (March 2003). "Nausea and vomiting during pregnancy". Gastroenterol. Clin. North Am. 32 (1): 201–34, vi. doi:10.1016/S0889-8553(02)00070-5. PMID 12635417.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Sheehan P (September 2007). "Hyperemesis gravidarum--assessment and management". Aust Fam Physician 36 (9): 698–701. PMID 17885701.
  8. Kranke P, Morin AM, Roewer N, Eberhart LH (March 2002). "Dimenhydrinate for prophylaxis of postoperative nausea and vomiting: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials". Acta Anaesthesiol Scand 46 (3): 238–44. doi:10.1034/j.1399-6576.2002.t01-1-460303.x. PMID 11939912.
  9. Tramèr MR, Carroll D, Campbell FA, Reynolds DJ, Moore RA, McQuay HJ (July 2001). "Cannabinoids for control of chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting: quantitative systematic review". BMJ 323 (7303): 16–21. doi:10.1136/bmj.323.7303.16. PMC 34325. PMID 11440936.
  10. Drug Policy Alliance (2001). "Medicinal Uses of Marijuana: Nausea, Emesis and Appetite Stimulation". Retrieved 2007-08-02.

Template:Gastroenterology Template:Digestive system and abdomen symptoms and signs

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