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Causes of morning nausea, aside from pregnancy

Pregnancy is perhaps the best-known cause of morning sickness, but there are many other causes. These include low blood sugar and dehydration. Many people experience nausea in the morning. Sometimes, it is only a temporary problem, but morning nausea can also be a chronic condition.

Many conditions, ranging from benign to very serious, may cause morning nausea. If symptoms do not improve within a few days, consider seeing a doctor.

Some medications can cause nausea. If a person feels nauseous after taking medication, they should talk to their doctor about it.

Morning nausea is not usually an emergency, unless it is accompanied by other serious symptoms.

In this article, we discuss some of the reasons, aside from pregnancy, a person may experience nausea in the morning.

Anxiety

Woman holding her stomach due to nausea in the morning
Anxiety may make a person feel nauseous in the morning.

Mornings can be times of high anxiety. A person may feel overwhelmed as they consider the day ahead. Some people with anxiety disorders experience nausea when they feel anxious.

Nausea can make anxiety worse, especially for people who fear vomiting or who have anxiety about their health. This can begin a cycle of progressively worsening anxiety-related nausea.

Some strategies can help with anxiety-related nausea. Meditation may help some people calm their anxious mind. Therapy and anti-anxiety medications can also be helpful. For anxiety about having a rushed morning, waking earlier and putting into place a reliable morning routine may help.


Low blood sugar and hunger

Low blood sugar can cause nausea, as well as symptoms such as dizziness, shaking, confusing, and even fainting. In the morning, hunger often causes low blood sugar, so eating a meal may help.

People with diabetes may develop low blood sugar due to the medications they have to take. After several hours without a meal, blood sugar can drop to very low levels for people with diabetes who are taking medication.

People can try eating a meal immediately after waking up to prevent low blood sugar in the morning. People with diabetes may need to discuss medication and food options with their doctors.


Migraine and other headaches

Nausea is a common symptom of migraine headaches. Some other headaches, especially cluster headaches, can also cause nausea. Head pain, unusual sensations, and sensitivity to light are signs of migraine.

Most people who experience headaches notice specific triggers. For some people, headaches appear early in the morning. This may be because of muscle tension, stress, or exposure to light or sound. Low blood sugar because of hunger may also trigger migraine headaches.

A doctor can help with choosing the right headache treatment. Identifying any headache triggers often helps. Some people notice immediate improvements with prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) headache remedies.


Dehydration

woman drinking water due to dehydration which causes brown urine
Dehydration may cause a person to feel nauseated.

Dehydration can make some people feel nauseated. Other symptoms of dehydration include lightheadedness or dizziness, very dry-looking skin, sunken eyes, dark urine, not urinating or urinating very infrequently, and exhaustion.

Dehydration may occur in the morning after a person goes many hours without drinking water. People who drink alcohol or caffeine immediately before bed may be more vulnerable to morning dehydration.

Diarrhea and vomiting can cause dehydration, especially in children. Prolonged sweating, especially when not drinking enough water, may also cause dehydration.

Drinking water or an electrolyte drink may help. Sometimes, however, a serious underlying condition makes it difficult for the body to absorb enough water. When this happens, drinking water will not cure dehydration.

See a doctor right away if drinking water does not help with symptoms of dehydration.

Reflux and heartburn

The condition gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when some of the stomach’s contents travel backward, up into the esophagus and the back of the throat. This can cause nausea, burning, and pain. Most people call this pain heartburn.

The pain of heartburn and GERD may be worse in the morning, since lying down makes it easier for stomach contents to move in the wrong direction. Some people also wake up with a cough or a hoarse voice.

Some people find that specific foods, especially acidic ones, can trigger morning nausea from GERD. So, some people may choose to avoid such foods.

Other people find relief from eating smaller meals or taking OTC antacids. Taking prescription drugs may offer relief from severe heartburn.


Muscle pain

Muscle tension in the neck and shoulders that triggers a headache commonly causes nausea and disorientation. Some other forms of muscle pain can also make a person feel nauseated.

Sleeping in an unusual position can make muscle pain worse in the morning. Some people notice that chronic pain is worse when they first get up. Some pain conditions, such as ankylosing spondylitis, or spinal arthritis, trigger a pain pattern that is worse in the morning.

Muscle pain that causes nausea can be temporary. It may also be a sign of a serious underlying condition such as arthritis, herniated discs, fibromyalgia, or a serious muscle condition.

People should see a doctor if the pain does not subside within a few days.

Some people find that gently stretching helps with morning muscle pain and the nausea that sometimes accompanies it. A heating pad or ice pack applied to the painful area for 20 minutes may also help.

Withdrawal

Many drugs, including illegal and recreational drugs, prescription drugs, and even caffeine, can cause withdrawal symptoms. Nausea is one of the most common symptoms of withdrawal.

When a person goes longer than usual without a drug, they may experience withdrawal, including in the morning before their first use.

For people taking prescription drugs that trigger withdrawal, it is important to discuss symptoms with a doctor. Changing the dosing schedule or tapering off the drug might help.

For people addicted to drugs, including legal drugs such as caffeine, the best strategy for preventing morning nausea is to stop using them. Support groups, therapy, 12-step programs, and inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation may help.


When to see a doctor

emergency sign at a hospital
A person should call 911 or go to the emergency room if they have nausea with a high fever.

Go to the emergency room or call 911 for morning nausea occurring with:

  • vomiting blood
  • intense stomach pain that gets progressively worse
  • a high fever
  • changes in consciousness or awareness

People with diabetes who experience intense nausea that does not get better after eating may be experiencing diabetic ketoacidosis. If this occurs, they should call a doctor right away or go to the emergency room.

If morning nausea does not get better within a few days, call a doctor. It may be helpful to keep a log of triggers, including any recent diet, lifestyle, or medication changes. This can help doctors pinpoint the cause of nausea.

Takeaway

Waking up nauseous is an unpleasant way to start the day. In most cases, the nausea is a temporary inconvenience, not a sign of a serious medical condition.

The right combination of home remedies and medical treatments can almost always help. People should see a doctor if symptoms do not improve after a few days.

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