Nausea and Vomiting: Sudden Causes, Symptoms, Fast Treatment (2024)

  • Introduction
    • What are nausea and vomiting?
  • Causes
    • What causes nausea and vomiting?
  • Symptoms
    • What does nausea feel like?
  • Diagnosis
    • How is the cause of nausea and vomiting diagnosed?
  • Treatment
    • What treatments and drugs help relieve nausea or vomiting?
  • Home Remedies
    • What natural home remedies help relieve nausea and vomiting?
  • Diet
    • What foods help with nausea and vomiting?
  • Prognosis
    • What is the prognosis for nausea and vomiting?
  • Complications
    • What are the dangers of nausea and vomiting?
  • Prevention
    • How to prevent nausea and vomiting

What are nausea and vomiting?

Nausea and Vomiting: Sudden Causes, Symptoms, Fast Treatment (1)

The major causes of nausea and vomiting include acute gastritis, stomach problems, medications, and mechanical obstruction of the bowel.

Nausea and vomiting are symptoms of an underlying illness, not a specific disease.

There is a distinction between nausea and vomiting. Nausea is the sensation that the stomach wants to empty itself, while vomiting (emesis) is the act of forcible emptying of the stomach. The term "dry heaving" (retching) refers to an episode of vomiting where there is no food in the stomach to vomit, and only small amounts of clear secretions are vomited. Vomiting is a violent act in which the stomach, esophagus, and small intestine forcibly expel contents of the stomach (and sometimes the small intestine) in a coordinated fashion.

What causes nausea and vomiting?

Causes of nausea and vomiting can originate from the stomach and intestines (infection, damage, and food irritation), inner ear (dizziness and motion sickness), or brain and nervous system (head injury, brain infections, tumors, and migraine headaches).

Examples of causes of nausea and vomiting, such as the following:

  • Acute gastritis (direct irritation of the stomach lining)
  • Signals from the vomiting center in the brain due to central nervous system infections
  • Other illnesses not due to stomach problems, such as brain tumors, pancreatitis, and appendicitis
  • Medications, medical treatments, illicit or illegal drugs, and drug or alcohol overdose
  • Mechanical obstruction of the bowel

Gastrointestinal (GI) causes of nausea and vomiting

Acute gastritis or esophagitis is often caused by something that irritates the lining of the stomach or throat, for example:

  • Infections: Infections are often the cause of stomach irritation, whether it is a common virus or another type of infection. There may be cramping and upper abdominal pain associated with nausea and vomiting. Fever and chills may be present. Common viral infections include noroviruses and rotavirus. Infection by bacteria in the Helicobacter family (such as H. Pylori) can also be a cause.
  • Stomach flu: Stomach flu (gastroenteritis) is when vomiting and diarrhea occur together and are associated with a viral infection that is outside of the stomach. It should not be confused with the flu (influenza), a viral infection with symptoms that include fever, chills, cough, and muscle pain.
  • Food poisoning: Food poisoning may cause significant vomiting. The most common cause is a toxin released by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. Symptoms of food poisoning begin within a couple of hours of eating contaminated or poorly prepared food. Other bacterial causes of food poisoning include Salmonella, Campylobacter, Shigella, E. coli, Listeria, or Clostridium botulinum (botulism).
  • Other stomach irritants: Alcohol, smoking, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen may irritate the stomach lining and cause nausea and vomiting.
  • Peptic ulcer disease: Peptic ulcer disease symptoms range from mild irritation of the stomach lining to ulcers, which is the formation of a defect in the protective lining of the stomach.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD, reflux esophagitis): Nausea or vomiting is also associated with GERD (acid from the stomach is refluxed into the esophagus).

Pregnancy-related causes of nausea and vomiting (morning sickness)

Vomiting in pregnancy is caused by changes in hormone levels in the bloodstream. Most women experience moderate symptoms of morning sickness, especially during the first trimester. Symptoms of morning sickness during pregnancy usually resolve by the fourth month.

Rarely, a woman may experience severe vomiting, dehydration, and weight loss, which is referred to as hyperemesis gravidarum.

QUESTION Bowel regularity means a bowel movement every day. See Answer

Neurological causes of nausea and vomiting

Neurological causes of nausea and vomiting include the following:

  • Headache: Especially migrainebecause itcommonly is associated with nausea and vomiting.
  • Inner ear: Motion sickness, labyrinthitis, benign positional vertigo, or Meniere's disease.
  • Increased pressure in the head (intracranial pressure): Any illness or injury that increases the pressure within the skull:
    • Brain swelling due to trauma (includes bleeding within the brain)
    • Infection (meningitis or encephalitis)
    • Tumors (benign or malignant)
    • Abnormal electrolyte concentrations in the bloodstream and associated water imbalance
    • Concussion (patients with head injuries do not have to have detectable bleeding in the brain or brain swelling to have symptoms of brain irritation, which can include a headache, nausea, vomiting, changes in vision, confusion, difficulty concentrating, and difficulty sleeping)
  • Smells, sounds, and trauma: Certain smells or sounds can cause nausea and vomiting that originate in the brain. Whether it is the pain of a broken bone or the emotional shock of a traumatic event, vasovagal events can cause significant symptoms. In a vasovagal episode, the vagus nerve (one of the nerves that helps control basic body functions like heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure) is overly stimulated and can cause the heart rate to slow and blood vessels to dilate. This decreases the flow of blood to the brain and can cause fainting (syncope).
  • Heat-related illness: Heat exhaustion, extreme sunburn, or dehydration.

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Nausea and vomiting caused by diabetes, diseases, and eating disorders

  • Diabetes: Persons with diabetes may develop nausea because of gastroparesis, a condition in which the stomach fails to empty properly and is likely due to generalized neuropathy (failure of the nerves in the body to send proper signals to and from the brain or regeneration of nerves in the stomach) that is a complication of the disease. People with diabetes can also develop nausea and vomiting if their blood sugars become abnormally high or low (hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia) because the sugar and insulin balance are disturbed.
  • Diseases: Many illnesses associated with the intra-abdominal organs can produce the symptoms of nausea and vomiting. These include digestive organ diseases such as:
    • Hepatitis
    • Gallbladder disease
    • Pancreatitis
    • Crohn's disease
    • Kidney diseases (kidney stones, infection, kidney failure)
    • Appendicitis
    • Some forms of cancer
  • Abdominal adhesions: Abdominal pain and distention, nausea and vomiting, and inability to pass flatus (gas) or have a bowel movement are symptoms of intestinal (bowel obstruction). Common causes of bowel obstruction include previous surgery with the formation of adhesions, hernias, abnormal twisting of the GI tract, tumors, and inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD (ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.
  • Vomiting as an atypical symptom of another disease: Some additional illnesses will cause nausea and vomiting, even though there is no direct involvement of the stomach or gastrointestinal tract.
    • Heart attack victims may experience nausea and vomiting as an atypical symptom of angina, especially if the heart attack affects the inferior or lower part of the heart.
    • Lung infections, for example, pneumonia and bronchitis, may also cause nausea and vomiting, especially if the area of the lung involved is near the diaphragm, the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen.
  • Sepsis: An overwhelming infection spread through the bloodstream may also be associated with nausea and vomiting.
  • Eating disorders: Patients with bulimia will have self-induced vomiting or purging as part of their psychiatric illness

Nausea and vomiting caused by drug side effects

Nausea and vomiting caused by drug side effects include the following:

  • Side effects from medications: The side effects of many medications include stomach irritation and/or nausea and vomiting. Narcotic pain medications, anti-inflammatory medications, steroids, and antibiotics all have nausea and vomiting listed as common side effects.
  • Radiation therapy: Nausea and vomiting can be associated with radiation therapy.
  • Chemotherapy: Anti-cancer drugs used for chemotherapy commonly cause nausea and vomiting that are not easily relieved.

Vomiting in infants

It may be hard to determine whether an infant is vomiting or spitting up. If the episodes occur shortly after feeding and only a small amount comes up, it may be spitting up.

  • Forceful vomiting: In the first 2-3 months of life, if the vomiting is forceful after eating (imagine it flying across the room), this may be a sign of pyloric stenosis, or an abnormal narrowing of the pylorus, the location where the stomach empties into the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). The vomiting is described as a projectile. Diagnosis is often made by history and physical examination, confirmed by ultrasound. Treatment is surgery.
  • Vomiting associated with pain: If the infant cries uncontrollably, and if the stool is bloody or red, it may be an intussusception (the pushing of one segment of the bowel into an adjacent segment). The stool is classically described as currant jelly, but any blood in the stool is not normal and should always be a cause for concern. It is reasonable to seek medical care in this case.
  • Viral infection: If there is vomiting with associated diarrhea that is not bloody, a viral infection is a possibility. Alternatively, there may be an issue with intolerance to the type of baby formula. Infants and children are at greater risk of dehydration if the vomiting episodes last for more than 24 hours. If dehydration is suspected, seek medical care. Signs and symptoms of dehydration in an infant include dry mouth, lack of sweat in the armpits and groin, sunken eyes, weak cries, and decreased muscle tone.

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What does nausea feel like?

The main sign of nausea is typically feeling sick to your stomach.

Other signs and symptoms of nausea include:

  • Giddiness
  • Sweating
  • Saliva buildup in the mouth
  • Urge to vomit
  • Retching

What other symptoms may accompany nausea and vomiting?

Nausea may occur alone or may be accompanied by certain symptoms, in which case it may indicate an underlying medical condition:

  • Abdominal pain: Indicates diseases that involve structural alterations (e.g. cholelithiasis).
  • Abdominal tenderness: Suggests bowel obstruction.
  • Vomiting of blood-like material: May indicate upper gastrointestinal bleeding.
  • Heartburn: Signals gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
  • Early morning onset: Typical of the early stages of pregnancy.
  • Headache: Indicates migraine.
  • Vomitus with sediments: Indicates an intestinal blockage.
  • Rapid involuntary eye movements: Signals vestibular neuritis.
  • Tooth enamel erosion, fine hair, and hardening of the skin in the upper portion of palms: Signals bulimia.

When should I call the doctor for nausea and vomiting?

Medical care should be sought if the following occurs:

  • Symptoms last for more than 24 hours
  • Diagnosis is uncertain
  • There is concern about dehydration,
  • The patient has underlying medical conditions that make them more fragile
  • Nausea and vomiting are associated with the following:
    • Pain
    • Fever
    • Vomiting blood
    • Bloody or black, tarry bowel movements

Infants and children are more susceptible to dehydration and may not have as much reserve as adults. If there is concern about dehydration or the inability to tolerate fluids, a healthcare professional should be contacted.

How is the cause of nausea and vomiting diagnosed?

Diagnosis often can be made when the health care professional takes a thorough medical history and performs a physical examination. Any tests that need to be ordered will be based on the information from the history and physical exam, and sometimes no further testing is required to make a diagnosis.

Laboratory tests and X-rays may be ordered to assess the stability of the patient and not necessarily to make a diagnosis. For example, a patient with food poisoning may need blood tests to measure levels of electrolytes (minerals) and other chemicals, since significant amounts of sodium, potassium, and chloride may have been lost from persistent vomiting and diarrhea.

Urinalysis may help assess hydration status. Concentrated, dark urine is associated with dehydration because the kidneys try to preserve as much water as possible in the body. Ketones in the urine are also a sign of dehydration.

What treatments and drugs help relieve nausea or vomiting?

Nausea and vomiting can be treated with medication at the same time as an underlying diagnosis is being made. Ideally, these symptoms should resolve when the underlying illness is treated and controlled.

Nausea and vomiting are often made worse when you are dehydrated, resulting in a vicious cycle. Nausea makes it difficult to keep down fluid, making the dehydration worse, which then increases nausea. Intravenous fluids may be provided to correct this issue and break the cycle.

There are varieties of anti-nausea medications (antiemetics) that your doctor may prescribe. These drugs can be administered in different ways depending upon your ability to take them. Medications are available by pill, liquid, or tablets that dissolve on or under the tongue, by intravenous or intramuscular injection, or by rectal suppository.

Common medications used to control nausea and vomiting include:

  • promethazine (Phenergan)
  • prochlorperazine (Compazine)
  • droperidol (Inapsine)
  • metoclopramide (Reglan)
  • ondansetron (Zofran)

The decision as to which medication to use will depend on the patient's condition.

What natural home remedies help relieve nausea and vomiting?

It is important to rest the stomach and avoid dehydration. Clear fluids should be attempted for the first 24 hours, and diet should be advanced as tolerated.

Clear fluids that are easy for the stomach to absorb include:

  • Water
  • Sports drinks
  • Clear broths
  • Popsicles
  • Jell-O

It is important not to take too much fluid at one time since stretching the stomach theoretically may cause nausea to worsen. One to two ounces of fluid at a time, taken every 10-15 minutes, might be all that the stomach can tolerate. In infants and children, the amount may be as little as 5 or 10 cc's or less than a third of an ounce at a time.

Milk products should be avoided for the first 24-48 hours during an episode of nausea and vomiting. If the infection involves the small intestine, the enzyme that helps digest milk located in cells lining the small intestine can become depleted. This can reduce the tolerance to milk and milk-containing products and lead to, bloating, vomiting, and diarrhea. As the affected individual begins to feel better, they can begin to reintroduce foods.

What foods help with nausea and vomiting?

The food chart below shows examples of foods that may help with the symptoms of nausea or foods that may make the condition worse.

Table. Nausea and vomiting: Foods to eat and avoid
Type of foodsFoods to eatFoods to avoid
Protein foods
  • Boiled or baked meat, fish, and poultry; cold meat or fish salad
  • Well-cooked eggs
  • Cream soups made with low-fat milk
  • Non-fat yogurt
  • Juice-type commercial protein supplements (Ensure Clear) blended with ice and eaten with a spoon
  • Cottage cheese
  • Cold sandwiches
  • Fatty and fried meats, such as sausage or bacon
  • Fried eggs
  • Milkshakes (unless made with low-fat milk and ice cream)
Bread, cereals, rice, and pasta
  • Saltines, soda crackers, bread, toast, pretzels, cold cereal, English muffins, and bagels
  • Plain noodles and white rice
  • Doughnuts, pastries, waffles, pancakes, and muffins
Fruits and vegetables
  • Potatoes (baked, boiled, or mashed)
  • Canned or fresh fruits, and vegetables as tolerated (do not eat if appetite is poor or nausea is severe)
  • Potato chips and fried potatoes such as French fries or hash browns
  • Breaded, fried, or creamed vegetables; vegetables with a strong odor
Drinks, desserts, and other foods
  • Ginger ale, cold fruit drinks, caffeine-free and noncarbonated soft drinks such as fruit punch and sports drinks, caffeine-free iced tea
  • Sherbet and fruit-flavored gelatin
  • Angel food cake and sponge cake; vanilla wafers
  • Pudding made with low-fat milk
  • Popsicles, juice bars, and fruit ice
  • Pretzels
  • Salt, cinnamon, and spices as tolerated
  • Alcohol
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Pie, ice cream, and rice cakes
  • Spicy salad dressings
  • Olives
  • Cream
  • Pepper, chili powder, onion, hot sauce, and seasoning mixtures

What is the prognosis for nausea and vomiting?

The prognosis for nausea and vomiting depends on the underlying condition that causes it. Recurring or persistent nausea is often a sign of a serious disease such as hepatitis, gastritis, ulcer, and stomach flu and may need a consultation by a doctor. However, most cases of nausea and vomiting are temporary and do not cause lasting effects in healthy people.

What are the dangers of nausea and vomiting?

The chief danger of vomiting is dehydration. If you throw up often, you will keep losing water and salt. Vomiting also prevents you from eating and drinking.

Dehydration can be deadly if severe. If you vomit a lot, watch for these signs of early-stage dehydration:

  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Thirst
  • Fast heartbeat

If you are dehydrated or at risk for dehydration, you should drink lots of water and other liquids. If you can't drink or keep throwing up, you should talk to your physician. Without treatment, you may progress to severe dehydration, which causes lethargy, sunken eyes, dry tongue, breathing difficulty, unconsciousness, and low blood pressure. This is a dangerous condition and can be fatal.

Severe dehydration needs hospitalization. Your physician will prescribe intravenous fluids and medicines to treat it.

Should you worry about your teeth when you vomit?

When you vomit, stomach acid comes in contact with your teeth. This acid is strong enough to damage them, so you want to get it off as soon as possible.

Many people want to brush their teeth immediately after vomiting, but this isn't helpful. It actually spreads the stomach acid around your mouth and grinds it into your teeth.

Instead, swish water or mouthwash around your mouth and spit it out. You can also rinse your mouth out with water mixed with one teaspoon of baking soda — a base — to help remove the acid.

Brush your teeth about 30 minutes after you rinse.

How to prevent nausea and vomiting

Prevention methods for nausea include:

  • Eating slowly
  • Avoiding hard-to-digest foods
  • Eating small meals throughout the day instead of three large meals
  • Consuming foods at room temperature
  • Avoiding obnoxious odors that would instigate nausea
  • Drinking water between meals rather than during meals
  • Drinking at least six to eight-ounce glasses of water a day
  • Avoiding stuffing yourself and trying to eat less when you feel nauseated
  • Resting with your head elevated 12 inches above your feet after having a meal
  • Avoiding skipping meals or snacks
  • Using butter, oils, syrups, sauces, and milk in foods to increase calories

Prevention methods of vomiting include:

  • Consuming small amounts of clear, sweetened liquids, such as fruit juices or soda pop
  • Avoiding orange or grapefruit juices because they are extremely acidic
  • Resting either in a sitting or proper sleeping position
  • Avoiding allowing kids to eat and play at the same time

Medically Reviewed on 12/27/2023

References

Tintinalli J, et al. Tintinalli's Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 8th edition. McGraw-Hill Professional 2015.

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/8106-nausea--vomiting/care-and-treatment

https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/nausea-and-vomiting/nausea-and-vomiting.html

Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: "A brief review of current scientific evidence involving aromatherapy use for nausea and vomiting."

Merck Manual: "Nausea and Vomiting in Adults," "Vomiting in Infants and Children."

Mouth Healthy: "Cold and Flu Season: 5 Ways to Care For Your Mouth When You're Sick."

Stanford Health Care: "Treatments for Nausea and Vomiting."

University of Michigan: "Diarrhea and Vomiting."

University of Rochester Medical Center: "What You Need To Know About Vomiting."

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4699282/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1090023314004201

https://medlineplus.gov/nauseaandvomiting.html

Nausea and Vomiting: Sudden Causes, Symptoms, Fast Treatment (2024)

FAQs

What settles nausea quickly? ›

Things that may help you stop feeling sick
  1. get plenty of fresh air.
  2. distract yourself – for example, listen to music or watch a film.
  3. take regular sips of a cold drink.
  4. drink ginger or peppermint tea.
  5. eat foods containing ginger – such as ginger biscuits.
  6. eat smaller, more frequent meals.

What is the fastest way to stop vomiting? ›

Care and Treatment
  1. Drinking clear and/or ice-cold drinks.
  2. Eating light, bland foods (such as saltine crackers or plain bread).
  3. Avoiding fried, greasy or sweet foods.
  4. Eating slowly and eating smaller, more frequent meals.
  5. Not mixing hot and cold foods.
  6. Drinking beverages slowly.
  7. Avoiding activity after eating.
Aug 9, 2023

What causes uncontrollable nausea and vomiting? ›

Nausea and vomiting most often are due to viral gastroenteritis — often called stomach flu — or the morning sickness of early pregnancy. Many medications or substances can also cause nausea and vomiting, including marijuana (cannabis).

How to settle your stomach after vomiting? ›

Try foods such as bananas, rice, applesauce, dry toast, soda crackers (these foods are called BRAT diet). For 24-48 hours after the last episode of vomiting, avoid foods that can irritate or may be difficult to digest such alcohol, caffeine, fats/oils, spicy food, milk or cheese.

What drinks relieves nausea fast? ›

Use a clear liquid diet to reduce the feeling of nausea. Liquids such as apple juice, cranberry juice, lemonade, fruitades, broth, Gatorade®, ginger ale, 7-Up®, popsicles, gelatin, tea, or cola are usually well tolerated.

What to drink to settle the stomach? ›

Treatment
  • Sports drinks.
  • Clear, non-caffeinated sodas such as 7-Up, Sprite or ginger ale.
  • Diluted juices such as apple, grape, cherry or cranberry (avoid citrus juices)
  • Clear soup broth or bouillon.
  • Popsicles.
  • Decaffeinated tea.

What is the best home remedy for nausea? ›

9 home remedies to get rid of nausea
  1. Ginger. Ginger has been used for health and wellness for thousands of years. ...
  2. Peppermint. Peppermint eases nausea by relaxing stomach muscles and reducing spasms in the digestive tract. ...
  3. Lemon. ...
  4. Deep breathing. ...
  5. Acupressure. ...
  6. Fresh air. ...
  7. Hydrate. ...
  8. Bland foods.
Mar 25, 2024

What medicine stops vomiting immediately? ›

Medications to stop vomiting

OTC medications for nausea can include Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate, which contain bismuth subsalicylate. These medications help protect the stomach lining and reduce vomiting caused by food poisoning.

What kills the stomach virus? ›

There's often no specific medical treatment for viral gastroenteritis. Antibiotics aren't effective against viruses. Treatment first involves self-care measures, such as staying hydrated.

Should I go to the ER for nausea and vomiting? ›

Call a provider right away or seek medical care if you or another person has: Been vomiting for longer than 24 hours. Been unable to keep any fluids down for 12 hours or more. Headache or stiff neck.

Should I drink water after vomiting? ›

For Nausea, Vomiting and Diarrhea:

Avoid eating and drinking for two hours after the last episode of vomiting. Start with small amounts of clear liquids, such as water, ice, popsicles, sports drinks, clear broth or Jell-O for the first 24 hours.

What fruit is good after vomiting? ›

You may have heard of the BRAT diet which stands for Bananas, Rice, Apples, and Toast. The BRAT diet was often recommended for nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, but is no longer because of how restrictive it is.

What can stop vomiting fast? ›

How To Treat Vomiting at Home
  1. Rinse your mouth well after vomiting. ...
  2. Dehydration is a common — and potentially serious — side effect of vomiting. ...
  3. Sit up and take deep breaths.
  4. Rest. ...
  5. Eat small portions of bland foods — cereal, rice, plain chicken, toast. ...
  6. Try over-the-counter (OTC) motion sickness medicine.
Dec 13, 2022

How to relieve nausea fast? ›

Eating and drinking
  1. Ginger. Ginger is widely used for reducing nausea. ...
  2. Peppermint. A recent study has shown peppermint to reduce nausea caused by chemotherapy. ...
  3. Sports drinks. Salty liquids, such as those found in electrolyte replacement sports drinks may help to reduce nausea, according to research .
  4. Protein. ...
  5. Cinnamon.

Should you lay down after throwing up? ›

Resting propped up in a seated position with the head elevated at least twelve inches above the feet is ideal. Remain in this seated rested position for a minimum of an hour, or until you are no longer experiencing nausea. Do not lie down all the way. Resting in a fully flat position could trigger vomiting.

What is fast acting for nausea? ›

Ondansetron is available both in tablet form and in ODT (orally disintegrating tablet) form. Once taken, it typically begins to relieve nausea within 30-60 minutes. Palonosetron helps to treat and prevent nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy. It is also given to post-op patients to prevent nausea and vomiting.

What is the best over the counter medicine for nausea? ›

Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol), dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), and phosphorated carbohydrate solution (Emetrol) are examples of over-the-counter (OTC) nausea medications. Scopolamine (Transderm Scop), ondansetron (Zofran), and promethazine (Promethegan) are examples of prescription nausea medications.

What medicine to take when you feel like throwing up? ›

Nausea medication
Best anti-nausea medications
Reglan (metoclopramide)RxNo evidence of risk
Compro (prochlorperazine)Rx & OTCSafety has not been established
Ativan (lorazepam)RxEvidence of risk
Dramamine (dimenhydrinate)Rx & OTCNo evidence of risk – Category B
10 more rows

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