GERD and nausea: symptoms and causes
Nausea can occur due to acid reflux, which is a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It can also result from other conditions, such as anxiety, stress, and motion sickness.
GERD is a common digestive disorder in which acids, food, or fluids travel from the stomach to the esophagus.
Nausea is a feeling of sickness or discomfort in the stomach. Although the severity of nausea can range from uncomfortable to debilitating, several medically approved treatments can reduce or eliminate the nausea induced by acid reflux.
This article takes a more in-depth look at GERD, nausea, and some remedies.
GERD is a chronic disease in which stomach acids and food particles travel from the stomach to the esophagus.
The cause can be physiological or pathological.
Normal physiological reflux occurs to varying degrees after a meal. These physiological events occur at short intervals and do not cause any symptoms.
Pathological GERD can occur for a variety of reasons, including:
- certain eating habits
- certain lifestyle habits, such as eating late at night
- a deficiency or injury in the lower esophageal sphincter that prevents it from working properly to prevent regurgitation of stomach contents
- the presence of a herniated stomach, such as a hiatus hernia
Is it heartburn or GERD?
Many people experience occasional episodes of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). These can cause a burning sensation, or heartburn, in the middle of the chest that goes up to the throat.
This tends to happen because the tissues in the esophagus are sensitive to stomach acids and can be damaged.
However, if a person experiences acid reflux more than twice a week, the condition is more likely to be GERD. Symptoms are usually severe and can disrupt daily life or keep a person awake at night.
It is not known why GERD tends to cause nausea, although it may be related to how acid reflux occurs.
Usually, after a person ingests liquids or food, the lower esophageal sphincter closes to prevent any food particles or stomach acid from moving up into the esophagus.
However, when the lower esophageal sphincter is not functioning properly, a person can experience acid reflux.
In turn, acid reflux can lead to a bitter taste in a person’s mouth, accompanied by coughing or burping. This can cause a feeling of nausea.
GERD is one of many digestive disorders that can cause nausea. Common disorders include:
Typically, nausea is not the only symptom of chronic digestive problems. A person may also experience:
- abdominal bloating or fullness
- gas or belching
- heartburn or indigestion
- diarrhea, constipation, or both
- abdominal pain and cramps
- reactions or intolerance to specific foods or food groups
Treatment for digestive disorders will vary depending on the cause. It can involve a combination of medications, diet or lifestyle changes, and medical procedures.
There are several symptoms associated with GERD, but the most common is chronic and severe heartburn.
Other symptoms may include:
- pain when swallowing
- erosion of tooth enamel and cavities
- bad breath
- difficulty swallowing
When to seek medical advice
A person should see a doctor immediately if they experience any of the following:
- no change in symptoms despite taking over-the-counter (OTC) antacids
- dysphagia or difficulty swallowing
- a feeling of globus, or a feeling that something is stuck in the throat
- loss of appetite
Left untreated, GERD can progress to more serious conditions, including:
- esophagitis, or inflammation of the tissues lining the esophagus, which can cause ulcers or bleeding
- benign esophageal stenosis, in which the esophagus narrows and interferes with swallowing
- Barrett’s esophagus, which involves cell changes that can lead to adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, a type of cancer
Medication side effects
If a person is taking medications for GERD – such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), antacids, or H2 blockers – there may be side effects.
These may include:
- stomach ache
Taking PPIs may also increase the risk of developing a serious bacterial infection in the intestines called Clostridioides difficile.
In most cases, people can manage GERD with lifestyle changes, medications, and home remedies.
Some lifestyle changes that can help treat GERD include:
- lose weight, if necessary, or maintain a moderate weight
- stop smoking
- sleeping with your head elevated
- eating meals at least 3 hours before lying down or going to bed
- follow a healthy and balanced diet
- stay hydrated
- avoiding or limiting foods and drinks that trigger or worsen GERD symptoms
- eat small meals
- avoiding carbonated or carbonated drinks
Certain medications, available both over the counter and by prescription, can also help a person manage GERD.
These drugs include:
- antacids, which help relieve mild symptoms
- drugs based on alginic acid, which create a foam barrier against reflux
- H2 blockers, which reduce the amount of acid produced in the stomach and may allow the lining of the esophagus to heal
- PPIs, which also reduce stomach acid production and may be more effective than H2 blockers in allowing the lining of the esophagus to heal
- anti-nausea medications
If GERD does not improve with medication or lifestyle changes, non-invasive procedures or surgery may be needed. Surgery may be the best option if someone doesn’t want to take long term medication.
Some common procedures for treating GERD include:
- Fundoplication: It is the most common type of surgery for GERD. This involves a surgeon sewing the top of the stomach around the end of the esophagus to add pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter. This can be a form of open surgery, or a surgeon can perform it laparoscopically, using a small lighted tube that they insert through a series of small cuts.
- Bariatric surgery: This type of surgery, also known as gastric bypass surgery, can improve weight loss and symptoms of GERD. It reduces the size of the stomach.
- Endoscopy: This non-invasive procedure uses a flexible camera to help a doctor assess the stomach and esophagus and make a diagnosis of GERD. The procedure can be therapeutic, such as when applying radiofrequency ablation to the area of the esophagus affected by Barrett’s esophagus.
Avoiding or limiting certain foods and drinks can help manage the symptoms of GERD, including the associated nausea.
Some foods and drinks that can trigger or worsen symptoms of GERD include:
- acidic items, such as tomatoes and citrus fruits
- coffee and other sources of caffeine
- fatty or fried foods
- spicy food
Symptoms of GERD include severe and chronic heartburn, nausea, and regurgitation.
A person may be able to manage the condition by making lifestyle changes and taking over-the-counter or prescription medications. Some people may require surgery.
If a person experiences unexplained chest pain or pressure, or a feeling of stomach contents trapped in the esophagus, they need immediate medical attention.