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Can Anxiety Make You Feel Nauseous

by Clara Wynn
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Can Anxiety Make You Feel Nauseous

Can Anxiety Make You Feel Nauseous? It’s not uncommon for people who are suffering from anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to have periods in which they feel nauseated. But what causes this feeling? Is the anxiety playing a role here, or should we look at something else?

What happens when our bodies are exposed to stressful situations? The fight-or-flight system kicks into gear, releasing certain hormones that help us deal with dangerous situations. Our bodies become flooded with adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol — all designed to keep us alive during times of danger.

When these hormones rush through our bloodstreams, they trigger our sympathetic nervous systems to release energy from our muscles so that we’re ready to run away or face an enemy head-on. In addition to increasing oxygen flow to vital organs like our hearts and lungs, adrenaline also releases glucose from our muscle cells and sends them coursing through our bloodstream. It also triggers the release of fatty acids from fat cells, helping to fuel our muscles.

If the situation doesn’t change after about 30 seconds, however, our bodies will start thinking that there’s no chance of escape and switch over to our parasympathetic nervous system. This part of our autonomic nervous system helps maintain homeostasis and regulates things like digestion. As soon as our body feels safe again, the parasympathetic system takes control and signals our glands to calm down. With this kind of relaxation, our bodies return to normal functioning.

But if we continue to perceive ourselves as being in imminent danger, our brains will begin sending out more “fight” hormones. Adrenaline levels increase even further, and our bodies’ sugar reserves drop precipitously. Our blood pressure rises and our pulse quickens. We may find ourselves experiencing a panic attack or having difficulty catching our breath. If left untreated, we could suffer from shortness of breath, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, chest pain and other symptoms associated with a heart attack.

So how does all this relate to feelings of nausea? Are the two related? Or do they just happen to be common side effects of intense emotions? Read on to learn more.

Nausea After Eating Certain Foods

The first time I ever felt sick while eating was probably somewhere around age 6. My mother had recently started me on a new diet she’d learned called “the cabbage soup diet.” On this diet, you eat nothing but cabbage soup and water, every single day. No matter how hungry you get, you don’t dare put anything tasty in your mouth because you know what’ll happen next — you’ll get sick. It sounds cruel, especially coming from someone who loves food so much, but my mom swore by the regime. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t able to stick to the strict regimen without getting sick. Even though I only ate cabbage soup and water, I couldn’t seem to stop myself from craving foods with salt, spices and flavorings. Eventually, I developed a habit of drinking very hot tea instead of water to try to avoid stomach acid reflux and indigestion.

As I got older, I realized that my bouts of nausea were directly linked to the types of food I ate. I would get sick immediately after eating spicy Mexican food, Chinese takeout, sushi and any type of seafood. One particular incident stands out in my mind. While watching TV one night, I decided to order a pizza from Dominoes. I had never eaten a Domino’s pepperoni pie before, but once the waitress brought the box to our table, I knew within minutes that I would be throwing up later. Within 10 minutes of taking my first bite, I began to feel queasy. By the end of the meal, I was vomiting uncontrollably. Needless to say, I won’t be making another trip to Domino’s anytime soon.

Although I’ve always known that certain foods make me ill, I didn’t understand why until I read several books and articles on the topic. According to experts, some ingredients found in processed and packaged foods can irritate our digestive tracts, causing bloating, gas, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems. Some foods simply contain too many chemicals, preservatives and additives. Chemicals used in artificial sweeteners can wreak havoc on our intestines and lead to intestinal distress and discomfort. High fructose corn syrup is often blamed for weight gain and diabetes. And even seemingly healthy foods like yogurt can upset our tummies if we consume them in excess.

In general, if you regularly experience feelings of nausea or disorientation shortly after eating certain foods, it may be time to reevaluate your meals. For example, maybe you shouldn’t be eating those cheeseburgers anymore!

Read on to discover additional ways that your diet, lifestyle habits and environment can contribute to feelings of nausea.

Do you think the occasional bout of nausea is normal? Do you feel fine afterward? Scientists believe that feelings of well-being during a bout of sickness are actually beneficial. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that women who experienced morning sickness between weeks five and 12 of their pregnancy exhibited lower levels of stress hormones than women who did not experience morning sickness. Researchers speculate that a woman’s body may use nausea as a mechanism to reduce her stress levels.

Causes of Nausea

People with medical conditions such as ulcers, Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis and celiac disease are more likely to develop nausea. Gastrointestinal diseases can also cause nausea, including infections, tumors, parasites and inflammation. Conditions affecting your central nervous system can also contribute to feelings of nausea. These include vertigo, Parkinson’s disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. Medications such as chemotherapy, antidepressants and antihistamines can also induce nausea.
Some medications commonly used to treat mood disorders, anxiety disorders and insomnia can also cause nausea. Examples include Prozac, Xanax, Zoloft and Ambien.

Antidepressants work by altering brain chemistry, which affects neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters regulate your mood, sleep patterns and appetite. Drugs that affect neurotransmitter function can alter your perception of taste, smell, sight, sound and touch. They can also disrupt your balance, coordination and motor skills.

A number of environmental factors can also trigger feelings of nausea. Smoking cigarettes and chewing tobacco can dry up saliva production, leaving mucus membranes unprotected against stomach acid. Drinking alcohol can dehydrate your body and leave you with less liquid to absorb nutrients. Coffee, soda and caffeinated teas can raise your blood pressure. All of these actions can cause your esophagus to spasm, resulting in nausea. Finally, some illnesses can mimic motion sickness, making you feel nauseous whether you’re moving or not. Common culprits include viruses, influenza, colds and flu, mononucleosis, migraine headaches and food poisoning.

Feel better knowing that there are steps you can take to prevent nausea? Check out the links on the following page.

The American Psychological Association reports that up to 90 percent of pregnant women experience some form of nausea throughout their pregnancies. However, most cases of nausea pass quickly and aren’t long-lasting. Women who experience nausea for longer than three days should consult their doctor.

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