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What is Severe Nausea?

By Sarah Sullins
Updated May 17, 2024
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Severe nausea occurs when a person feels extremely sick to his stomach. It is typically a symptom of a problem, such as an illness, and is not an illness in and of itself. The nausea often feels intolerable and is persistent. At times, it may appear with no warning, depending on the cause of the nausea.

Sudden, persistent nausea that appears without warning is often referred to as acute nausea. Food poisoning, appendicitis and motion sickness are some of the reasons for acute severe nausea. Allergic reactions to food may also result in nausea that is classified as severe.

There are several reasons why a person may experience severe nausea. It may come from the type of medication the person is taking, from an illness, alcohol or a digestive disorder. Anesthesia that is given to a person during surgery can sometimes leave a person feeling nauseous when he wakes up.

Pregnancy is a common reason for women to experience nausea. While not all women experience nausea that is severe during pregnancy, some do. Abnormalities in a woman’s pregnancy can make nausea worse. Being pregnant with more than one baby can often cause a woman to have stronger feelings of nausea, as well.

A rare disorder known as hyperemesis gravidarum can occur during pregnancy and is often associated with severe nausea. Doctors believe this occurs because of the amount of hormones in a woman’s body. There are certain risk factors that can make it more likely for a woman to develop this disorder, such as being overweight, having experienced the disorder before, or becoming a mom for the first time.

Other symptoms may occur with severe nausea, some requiring medical attention. A person may experience fever, headaches, cramping or abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea and dizziness. Dehydration may occur if the person cannot keep any food or drink down. If the nausea produces vomiting, the person may experience loss of weight. Some other symptoms may also be present, depending on the severity and reason for the nausea.

Severe nausea usually is not a serious health concern. However, if dehydration or extreme vomiting occur, a person may need to see a doctor. Anti-nausea medicine can be prescribed, or a doctor can recommend intravenous fluids to aid in rehydration. Some serious medical conditions that have nausea as a symptom, such as appendicitis, will require immediate medical attention. Depending on the condition that is causing the severe nausea, a person may need to have surgery.

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Discussion Comments
By fBoyle — On Jul 06, 2013

My diabetes medication sometimes gives me severe nausea, bloating and diarrhea.

By candyquilt — On Jul 06, 2013

@turquoise-- Motion sickness is caused by vertigo which is due to imbalance in inner ear pressure.

Have you taken a flight lately? Did you have a recent ear infection or did you receive an antibiotic treatment for some other reason? Both of these can cause changes in inner ear pressure which can lead to vertigo. It may be temporary, but if it continues, you should see an ear, nose and throat specialist.

I had dizziness and nausea in moving vehicles for about a month last year after a long treatment with strong antibiotics. Antibiotics cause changes in the inner ear, I'm not sure why or how. But after about a month, my motion sickness disappeared on its own. I ate a lot of ginger candies and took anti-nausea medications within that time though.

By turquoise — On Jul 05, 2013

@pastanaga-- So you think that motion sickness is caused by problems in the inner ear?

I've been getting severely nauseated when I'm in vehicles lately-- cars or the metro. I vomited a couple of times in the metro which was very embarrassing.

By KoiwiGal — On Jul 05, 2013

My mother jokes that she loved being pregnant because she always ended up losing weight, rather than gaining it, she was so ill during the pregnancies.

She told me that the only thing that would settle her stomach was to make sure she was very hydrated with water and then to eat a few dry crackers in the morning then wait for at least an hour.

If she tried to eat anything else, or was even in the presence of any kind of strong smelling food, she would end up vomiting.

I've always wondered what the point of severe pregnancy nausea is, since you'd think it would be more advantageous for a new mother to eat as much as possible, not to throw up at the drop of a hat.

By croydon — On Jul 04, 2013

@pastanaga - Apparently my family has this as a genetic risk, because several of my close relatives have developed inner ear problems once they reached their 30s or so.

The first time my sister tried going sky diving, for example, she got a severe case of vertigo and it was all she could do not to vomit on the person diving in tandem with her.

Luckily it only seems to show itself when she's doing something extreme, like sky diving, or going on a really fast roller coaster or something like that. I keep telling her she should go and see an ear doctor, just to make sure she's OK, because they are new symptoms that never bothered her before, but she just avoids doing those kinds of activities now.

By pastanaga — On Jul 04, 2013

Something else that might cause severe dizziness and nausea is a problem with the inner ear. Basically, you'll have vertigo symptoms at odd times and will feel sick whenever you are in motion.

It might not actually cause much pain, so people don't think that the ear could be the problem, but it's not uncommon for people to develop this kind of condition, particularly later in life.

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