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What Are the Most Common Causes of Afternoon Nausea?

By Christine Hudson
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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There are many reasons for afternoon nausea, including caffeine use, lack of sleep, or an illness. One of the most common causes of afternoon nausea in women is pregnancy. Nausea is body's way of suppressing the appetite because something is wrong, usually either in the digestive tract, blood sugar levels, or the balance center in the inner ear. Balance center issues may include infections in the ear or simple motion sickness.

Despite its name, morning sickness during pregnancy does not only occur in the morning. Afternoon nausea is quite often associated with pregnancy, especially in the early stages. If nausea in the afternoon or evening is a fairly new occurrence and there is the possibility a woman may be pregnant, she may wish to see a doctor. Common treatments for this cause of nausea include home remedies such as chamomile or peppermint tea, hard candies to suck on, or simply lying down. Nausea which is severe and persistent during pregnancy may need to be treated by a change in diet, or even medications which a doctor has prescribed or deemed safe.

A low calorie intake or high sugar diet can cause nausea part way through the day, especially in a person who is more active. Blood sugar levels may become imbalanced throughout the day, especially in those with diabetes. Some proven ways to treat nausea due to diet issues include eating a small amount of bland and starchy food, drinking water, or even taking licorice herb or fiber capsules.

Other factors, such as stress, lack of sleep, and anxiety may cause afternoon nausea. A brain without enough rest may become more susceptible to internal and external changes, causing symptoms like nausea, irritability, or even hallucinations. Just as a brain with undue stress or anxiety may be less able to process and function properly, a tired brain may develop these same problems.

In the case of motion sickness, the balance center within the inner ear becomes confused by the signals it is receiving. For example, when reading in a car, a person's eyes may be steady on the book, but the fluid in his ears is moving with the car. This type of mismatch in the senses stresses his brain, his stomach muscles may begin to quiver, and nausea sets in. There are some motion sickness medications that are available with or without prescription which can prevent this nausea. If this occurs unexpectedly, treatment may require that the movement stop if necessary, or that the sufferer drink plenty of cold water.

Persistent afternoon nausea may also be a sign of more serious problems such as ulcers, gallstones, or colitis. If a person is experiencing persistent nausea associated with other symptoms like pain, it is generally recommended that they seek professional treatment. In the most serious cases, nausea may be a sign of prolonged high blood pressure or a heart attack. Nausea with tightness in the chest, pain in the upper arms, or unexplained sweating may be life threatening and warrants an immediate visit to a doctor.

Ruling Out Pregnancy as a Cause of Nausea

Nausea is a common symptom of pregnancy. In fact, 50 to 90% of pregnant women experience it. Vomiting occurs for 25 to 55% of pregnant women.

While it’s true that pregnancy often causes morning sickness, nausea can appear at any moment of the day.

If you suspect pregnancy as a possible cause, look for other pregnancy symptoms such as a missed period, fatigue, tender breasts, or cramping. Some women even experience increased urination, moodiness, and new food aversions.

The best way to rule out pregnancy is to take a test. You should be able to take a pregnancy test the first day after your missed period, but some tests can detect increased hormone levels earlier.

Hormonal Changes and Nausea

The hormonal changes associated with pregnancy are a possible cause of nausea, but you should know that other conditions can cause changes in your hormonal levels.

For women between the ages of 45 and 55, menopause can be another possible cause of nausea. The hormones contained in birth control pills can also cause nausea and dizziness if you’re using contraceptives.

Can a Virus Cause Nausea?

Several viruses can cause viral gastroenteritis, a condition where the lining of the gastrointestinal tract becomes inflamed.

It’s an extremely common condition with 19 to 21 million cases caused by the norovirus alone in the U.S. each year. If you catch viral gastroenteritis, you’ll likely experience nausea and other symptoms like headaches, sore muscles, a fever, or loose stools.

Symptoms usually appear between one and three days after the infection and disappear within two days. However, some cases can linger for up to two weeks.

If your nausea appeared suddenly and resolves itself after a few days, a virus is the most likely cause.

Afternoon Nausea and IBS

If your nausea is an ongoing issue, it might be a symptom of IBS. Patients and healthcare professionals sometimes overlook nausea as a symptom of IBS, but you should know that 38% of women with IBS and 27% of men with IBS report experiencing this symptom.

Researchers don’t fully understand the connection between IBS and nausea yet. However, it seems that there might be a connection between nausea, IBS, and GERD. Some patients also report that their nausea disappears after a bowel movement.

Additional Causes of Afternoon Nausea

There are other factors that could cause you to feel nauseous during the afternoon.

Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety can interfere with digestion. It’s possible to experience a stomach ache and even a loss of appetite because of stress.

If you work in a stressful environment or have been experiencing a lot of anxiety lately, your nausea could have a psychological cause.

Food Intolerances

Did you know that as much as 20% of the population could have a food intolerance? While severe allergies are easy to diagnose, something like a mild food intolerance or food sensitivity can be harder to detect.

Experiencing a mild food intolerance can result in nausea. Common culprits include nuts, eggs, shellfish, dairy products, and gluten. Keep track of what you eat to determine if a certain food might be the cause of your symptoms.

Acid Reflux

Acid reflux is a common issue. It’s easy to treat with over-the-counter antacids, but some causes can cause additional symptoms such as nausea. Avoid spicy foods and foods rich in fat to see if your symptoms disappear.

Your Environment

Your environment could trigger nausea for a number of reasons. For instance, a new smell could cause a mild aversion and result in feelings of nausea.

Exposure to some chemicals can also cause nausea among other symptoms. Things like insulation, adhesives, or particle boards can contain formaldehyde, a chemical that can result in nausea when you breathe it in.

Try improving ventilation at home and at work to improve the quality of the air you breathe.

Vision Problems

There are an estimated 1 billion people worldwide with untreated vision problems. Vision health problems like nearsightedness or blurred vision are more common than you think, and screens can worsen an existing vision problem.

Untreated vision problems can cause nausea, headaches, eye strain, and other symptoms. If you find yourself sitting closer to your computer screen or find that you tend to squint when you read, schedule an appointment to have your eyes checked.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon998664 — On Jul 28, 2017

Coffee does not dehydrate you and caffeine is not a diuretic.

By stoneMason — On Oct 05, 2013

I didn't realize I was pregnant until eight weeks because I was expecting nausea in the morning, not the afternoon. So I kept thinking that the nausea and bloating were from something else. But it turned out to be first-trimester sickness!

By SteamLouis — On Oct 05, 2013

@ankara-- It happens to me sometimes too.

Do you drink a lot of coffee when you don't sleep well? I think my nausea is more related to my over-consumption of coffee rather than lack of sleep. Coffee gives energy at first, but then it makes me tired more than ever. Coffee also makes me dehydrated because it's diuretic and I forget to drink more water when I have it. If I don't eat enough food, it gives me acidity as well. All of these things add up and lead to nausea.

By bluedolphin — On Oct 04, 2013

I get lightheadedness and nausea in the afternoon if I don't get enough sleep the night before. I don't know why I'm like this because none of my friends have this complaint.

If I have to study all night or wake up earlier than usual, I literally get nauseated toward the end of the day from fatigue. The nausea will not go away unless I sleep and I usually rush home to take a nap. Even if I sleep for an hour, the nausea goes away. It's very weird.

Does anyone else experience this? Why do you think this happens?

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