Nausea is an uncomfortable feeling and a cause for concern if it constantly occurs. It can be a warning sign of disease or a medical condition that may require immediate attention. However, not all cases of nausea are a sign of an underlying illness. There are numerous reasons that an individual can experience nausea after eating. Most times, nausea is often accompanied by the feeling that you may vomit.
The feeling of nausea can accompany other symptoms such as excessive production of saliva, stomach pain, and dizziness. Nausea can occur for many reasons; thus, it is important to understand what may be causing it.
It is important to remember that nausea and vomiting, on their own, are not diseases. However, they are considered symptoms of various medical conditions which everyone should be aware of. Below are some of the causes of nausea after consuming food:
- Certain medications
- Seasickness or motion sickness
- An early symptom of pregnancy
- Emotional, physical, or mental stress
- Food poisoning or stomach infection
- Heart attack
- Gallbladder disorder
- Stomach virus
- Brain tumor
- Bulimia and other psychological illnesses
- Certain forms of cancer
- Brain injury or concussion
- Ingesting excessive amounts of alcohol or toxins
- Gastroparesis (commonly found in diabetic patients)
The cause of nausea often depends on age. When it comes to children, it is often caused by viral infection, milk allergy, motion sickness, coughing, food poisoning, or blocked intestines. It is important to make a note of when nausea started, since this information can help in diagnosing its exact cause.
When nausea frequently occurs shortly after eating, it could be due to a gastrointestinal issue such as inflammation in the lining of the stomach, bulimia, or ulcer. If nausea occurs 1-2 hours after eating, the trigger could be food poisoning. However, there are certain forms of food borne bacteria which take longer to display symptoms such as salmonella.
Below are further details on the causes for nausea after eating:
1. Hormonal Changes and Pregnancy
There are a lot of hormonal changes that take place during pregnancy. The changes that occur can induce feelings of nausea at any time during the day. This is often seen in the morning and referred to as “morning sickness”. Some pregnant women tend to experience nausea just before their meals, while others experience it after. During pregnancy, some women cannot stand the smell or taste of certain foods. Smelling the foods that they are sensitive to can also cause nausea. Pregnant women begin to experience nausea in their first trimester and then again during the second month of pregnancy.
Nausea during pregnancy is not considered harmful to the mother or baby. It will usually resolve itself by the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy. However, certain women may experience nausea for the entire nine months that they are with child. Because of the elevated hormone levels that occur with pregnancy, certain changes to the body and digestive system cause food to stay in the stomach and small intestine for longer than normal. Pregnancy hormones are said to relax the connection between the stomach and esophagus; therefore, increasing acid reflux and triggering nausea.
2. Infection or Food poisoning
Contaminated foods or drinks are known to be the leading cause of food poisoning or stomach infection. When food is not cooked or washed properly, it can lead to the occurrence of food poisoning. Additionally, if food has been left out for an extended period or not refrigerated properly, it can also lead to contamination and possible food poisoning. Bacteria and certain viruses are considered to be the cause of contamination of food and drinks.
In certain cases, viral infections of the digestive tract, such as stomach flu, can also be attributed to nausea after eating. Individuals tend to contract viruses from being in close contact with an infected person or consuming contaminated food or water. Apart from nausea, stomach flu can also cause other symptoms such as vomiting, cramps, abdominal pain, fever, and diarrhea.
3. Food Allergies or Food Intolerance
Food allergies are the not the same as food intolerances; however, both can lead to nausea.
- Food allergies involve the immune system. When the immune system identifies certain foods as foreign invaders, that it views as threatening, the body will begin releasing histamines and other chemicals to protect itself from the invasion. Once this occurs, allergy symptoms will manifest.
- Food intolerance does not involve the immune system. When someone suffers from a food intolerance, it means that their body finds it difficult to digest the food that they are intolerant to.
4. Gastrointestinal Problems
Nausea and other gastrointestinal issues tend to occur when a particular organ in the digestive system stops carrying out its proper function. For example, GERD or “gastroesophageal reflux disease” is known to occur when the ring of the muscle located between the esophagus and the stomach malfunctions, leading to stomach acid entering the esophagus. GERD causes a burning sensation throughout the esophagus, which can also result in nausea after eating.
The gallbladder is responsible for releasing bile to aid in the digestion of fats. When the gallbladder malfunctions, it can cause issues with properly digesting fats, which can cause nausea post meals that are rich in fats.
The pancreas is known to release hormones and proteins which are required for digestion. If the pancreas becomes inflamed or injured, it can lead to a medical condition known as “pancreatitis”.
Another chronic gastrointestinal condition is “irritable bowel syndrome” (IBS), which can lead to gas, bloating, and nausea.
5. Psychological Issues
Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are characterized by abnormal eating habits. Anorexia nervosa is known to cause nausea due to excess stomach acid or starvation of the body. Bulimia nervosa can also cause nausea, after eating, and is often due to a compulsion to vomit any food that has been consumed in order to lose weight. Other psychological causes for nausea include intense stress, anxiety, and depression.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Occasional nausea is not a major cause for concern. However, if nausea becomes persistent or does not subside within a week, consult a doctor. Seek immediate medical attention if you begin to experience the follow symptoms:
- Chest pain
- Blood in vomit or stools
- Rapid heartbeat
- Severe vomiting or trouble keeping food down
- Sudden fever that spikes to 101 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Persistent diarrhea that lasts more than 3 days
- Little production of urine or no urine at all
- Signs of dehydration
- Extreme thirst even after drinking fluids
- Sudden and excessive pain in the abdomen
For children above the age of six, seek medical attention if they begin to experience the following symptoms:
- Fever that exceeds 102 degrees Fahrenheit
- Persistent diarrhea or vomiting that lasts more than a day
- Signs of dehydration such as little to no urine output, no tear production when crying, or sunken-in cheeks.
Since nausea is a symptom that can occur in numerous conditions, it may be necessary to consult a doctor in order to receive a correct diagnosis and treatment plan.
- For food allergies: Avoid any food items that triggered the allergic reaction.
- For GERD or heartburn: Avoid spicy foods, lose weight to stay healthy, and take antacids or medications that have been prescribed by your doctor.
- For pregnant women: Eat bland food items such as pasta, crackers, or toast. Avoid the foods that cause nausea or vomiting.
- For irritable bowel syndrome: Avoid foods that tend to agitate the stomach.
- For eating disorders: Seek help from a counselor or therapist.