Nauseous after eating? 7 causes, treatment options, and prevention tips for feeling sick after meals
- Common causes of nausea after eating include food allergies, stress, and pregnancy.
- If your nausea lasts more than two days or is resistant to home remedies, see your doctor.
Most people have felt nauseous at some point in their life — the queasy, upset feeling in your stomach that may make you feel like vomiting.
For some, this uncomfortable sensation occurs after eating, usually 30 to 60 minutes following a meal, and it may last one to three hours, says Jesse P. Houghton, MD, FACG, the senior medical director of Gastroenterology at SOMC Gastroenterology Associates.
If you do experience nausea after eating, here are seven of the most common causes and how to properly treat it.
Nausea during pregnancy doesn't just happen in the morning, it can also occur after lunch, dinner, and snacks.
That's because pregnant people produce the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), which comes with nausea as a side effect.
"The rise of estrogen or the change in the balance of the bacteria in the gut during pregnancy could be another reason nausea after eating increases," says Niket Sonpal, MD, an internist and gastroenterologist.
2. Food poisoning
It's well known that food poisoning can cause nausea. These foods are contaminated with either a virus or bacteria which disrupts the GI tract triggering nausea and, oftentimes, vomiting, says Houghton.
Usually, bacteria that cause food poisoning die when exposed to temperatures higher than 140 degrees Fahrenheit. That's why pre-packaged and raw foods, like salad, fruits, and undercooked meat are common culprits of food poisoning since they're uncooked, says Sonpal.
Important: Visit a doctor immediately if you experience bloody vomit or bowel movements, extreme pain, blurry vision, or diarrhea for more than three days.
3. Food intolerances or allergies
When you eat something you are allergic or have an intolerance to, your body's immune system responds with chemicals, like immunoglobulin E (IgE) and histamine, that can cause symptoms such as nausea, says Sonpal.
The most common food allergies are:
If you think your nausea is due to an allergy, get tested by an allergist who can help you determine which foods may be to blame.
4. Gastroesophageal reflux disease
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), aka acid reflux, occurs when stomach acid flows up into the esophagus, inflaming it, which can trigger nausea, says David D. Clarke, MD, a clinical assistant professor of Gastroenterology Emeritus and assistant director at the Center for Ethics at Oregon Health & Science University.
Note: GERD is not life-threatening, but continued esophageal inflammation can lead to more serious problems like esophagitis and could require further treatments and even surgery.
Treatment for GERD includes:
- Taking over-the-counter antacids, like Tums and Pepto Bismol.
- Using prescription medication, like famotidine and cimetidine, reduces or blocks acid production.
- Undergoing surgery such as fundoplication, which wraps the upper part of the stomach around the esophagus, which strengthens the valve between the two organs.
5. Irritable bowel syndrome
"There is no exact cause of an IBS flare-up. However, most symptoms, such as vomiting, tend to worsen after consuming food that is difficult to digest," says Sonpal. "Sometimes IBS nausea also occurs because of certain trigger foods, medications, or stress."
Treatment for IBS includes:
- Avoiding foods that trigger your symptoms
- Regular exercise
- Drinking lots of fluids
- Removing foods that can cause gas like gluten or FODMAPs
- Taking a fiber supplement or laxative
- Starting an antidepressant
6. Gallbladder disease
Most variations of gallbladder disease result in nausea after eating. That's because the organ works to push bile into the small intestine and help digestion.
"If the flow of bile is obstructed, for example by a gallstone, the resulting stretch on the gallbladder or its associated ducts can lead to nausea," says Clarke.
Other signs of gallbladder disease include:
- Yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes,
- Pain on the right side of the abdomen
- Dark urine
If you experience any of the above symptoms, visit a doctor who can diagnose you and provide proper treatment. Gallbladder disease is rarely a life-threatening condition.
7. Anxiety or stress
As if stress and anxiety aren't enough to deal with on their own, these mental health issues can also cause gastrointestinal problems like nausea or diarrhea.
"Stress hormones can affect how our GI tract contracts, either slowing it down or speeding it up," says Houghton.
To determine if anxiety is causing your post-meal nausea, keep a journal of when you feel anxious and when you are nauseous. This way you can notice any patterns between the two.
Techniques to reduce stress include:
- Breathing exercises
- Exercising regularly
- Setting realistic goals for yourself
- Working with a mental health professional
How to reduce nausea
- Limiting activity directly after eating
- Eating small, frequent meals
- Consuming ginger
- Drinking cold, clear fluids slowly
- Avoiding known trigger foods
- Not brushing your teeth directly after eating
- Eating bland foods like bread
Factors such as pregnancy, IBS, and stress can cause people to become nauseous after eating.
According to Clarke, you should see a doctor if:
- Your nausea lasts more than two days
- You're dehydrated due to diarrhea or vomiting
- You're vomiting longer than a day
- Home treatment isn't working
- You have worsening abdominal pain
If you are experiencing nausea after a meal, try chewing on ginger, slowly drinking cold water, or limiting your activity until the feeling passes.
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