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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jun 23, 2023.

What is Nausea?

Harvard Health Publishing

Nausea is a general term describing a queasy stomach, with or without the feeling that you are about to vomit. Almost everyone experiences nausea at some time, making it one of the most common problems in medicine. Nausea is not a disease, but a symptom of many different disorders. It is caused by problems in any one of three parts of the body, including:

Nausea also is a common side effect of some body chemical changes:


Nausea is difficult for many people to describe. It is a very uncomfortable, but not painful, feeling that is felt in the back of the throat, the chest, or the upper abdomen. The feeling is associated with distaste for food or an urge to vomit. When the body prepares to vomit, the following sequence may occur:

When a person vomits, the stomach contents are expelled through the esophagus and mouth.

As a result of these body actions, when you have nausea you experience retching. Retching is repeated rhythmic contractions of respiratory and abdominal muscles that occur without your control. You may or may not vomit. Profuse sweating sometimes accompanies nausea.


Because nausea occurs for such a wide variety of reasons, your doctor will seek clues to the cause of nausea in your medical history, including your medication use. It is especially helpful for you to report other symptoms that you might be having, or activities (such as eating) that trigger your nausea. If you are a sexually active woman of childbearing age, tell your doctor whether there is a possibility that you could be pregnant, the date of your last menstrual period, and any type of birth control you use.

Your doctor will examine you. The exam may include blood pressure testing, an abdominal examination, neurological examination, or other tests, depending on your recent symptoms and other medical history. Blood tests may be done. For any woman who could be pregnant, a pregnancy test should be done. If you have had a recent head injury, you may require a brain imaging test, such as a computed tomography (CT) scan.

Expected duration

The cause of nausea will determine how long it lasts or how often it occurs. When the cause can be traced to spoiled food, motion sickness, or a viral illness, nausea is usually short-lived and should not be a cause for concern. In most cases, the queasy feeling lasts no more than minutes to a few hours and usually goes away on its own within 24 hours.


Some causes of nausea are not easily prevented. While the cause of your nausea is being determined, you can minimize episodes of nausea by following some basic guidelines:


Nausea does not always require treatment, but sometimes treatment is helpful. There are several things you can do on your own to help, including:

Some over-the-counter medications can help to relieve nausea, including:

If you continue to feel nauseated, several prescription medications are available to help relieve nausea. Most anti-nausea medicines have drowsiness as a side effect. Women who are pregnant, or who think they might be pregnant, should be evaluated by a physician before taking any drug, including over-the-counter medicines.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

When to call a professional

You should call your doctor if nausea lasts for more than three days. You should contact your doctor sooner if your nausea is associated with


The outlook depends on the cause of the nausea. Most people recover completely within a few hours or a day.

Additional info

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Learn more about Nausea

Treatment options guides (external)

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.