If you look up ‘early morning sickness’ on Google, there’s a good chance it’ll tell you you’re pregnant, the due date and whether it’s a boy or girl. But what happens if you’re suffering from morning nausea when you're not pregnant?
Chances are you’re either experiencing digestive issues such as acid reflux, an infection or in rarer cases, it could be the sign of something more sinister: a contagious stomach bug or something alot more serious. Here we decode what constant nausea could mean if you are not pregnant.
What is nausea?
According to the Harvard Medical School, nausea is a "general term describing a queasy stomach, with or without the feeling that you are about to vomit" and can commonly be accompanied by a headache.
“Nausea is actually not to do with pregnancy which can happen just in the morning. If you look at what causes nausea, you’ll be incredibly excited to know you have a vomit centre in your brain which can get stimulated,” says renowned GP Dr. Ginni Mansberg.
“It is quite useful if you have a gastric flu or gastric bug for your body to go ‘eww, I don’t like the idea of eating, I feel really sick.' It protects your stomach by not putting too much in there that might actually make you a little worse.
“Locally, in the stomach and the oesophagus, you can actually have things go wrong that make you feel quite nauseous. When someone only ever feels sick in the morning, one thing that can be a real red flag is waking up a splitting headache and nausea – waking you up at three or four in the morning. Especially if you have a little bit of blurred vision."
What causes morning nausea?
Indigestion and Acid Reflux
Acid reflux usually occurs during your sleep when the lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS) doesn't function correctly and the contents of your stomach travel back up your throat as you lay horizontally. And according to Dr. Mansberg, the signs are subtle and can make mornings uncomfortable.
"(It's why) people don’t like eating breakfast until they’ve been upright for a while. That can be a subtle sign of gastro oesophageal reflux disease (GORD)," Dr. Mansberg tells us.
"You have a one way valve that stops stomach acid and the pH of the stomach is extremely acidic, similar to car battery acid, and it’s what helps you digest protein and even absorb a couple of vitamins – that acidic environment is extremely important as your first line of defence against bacteria – it will kill most bugs in your food.
“The symptoms can be really subtle - you can have no symptoms or you can have issues swallowing, a constant cough, a constant yucky taste in your mouth because that stomach acid can come up all the way to the back of your mouth. You can also feel mildly nauseas and a lot of those symptoms will be worse first thing in the morning."
UTI ( Urinary Tract Infection)
Another possible explanation for morning sickness might be a urinary tract infection (UTI).
UTIs are the most common bacterial infection in women in general and in particular, postmenopausal women.
"In post-menopausal women, a urinary tract infection (UTI) can cause nausea but it’s not just in the morning," continues Dr. Mansberg.
"In your 20s, you remember that burning, stinging and needing to pee all the time. The minute you’ve gone through menopause, it just looks and smells very different and all you can have is nausea. You need to see a doctor to get examined."
Most stomach bugs will cause an upset stomach leading to vomiting and diarrhoea. But there is one bacteria infection that invades the stomach and might be responsible for morning sickness.
“Helicobacter Pylori is a build up of this certain bacteria in the stomach. It’s transferred from person to person by double dipping food at parties. The symptoms of that are also nausea and can also include reflux, bloating, farting and bad breath," explains Dr. Mansberg.
Research suggests that around one third of Australian adults carry the bug and if left untreated, it can lead to more serious conditions such as stomach ulcers and stomach cancers.
"It does tend to travel within families because they share so much food," adds Dr. Mansberg.
When should you see a GP?
“When someone only ever feels sick in the morning, one thing that can be a real red flag is waking up with a splitting headache and nausea – waking you up at three or four in the morning, especially if you have a little bit of blurred vision," warns Dr. Mansberg.
“Because if you did have a little yucky thing in your head, not that we want to call it brain cancer necessarily, it raises what we call intra-cranial pressure inside the skull. There’s not a lot of room to move in an adult skull because all of the bones are fused. If there’s any swelling inside the brain, you can get a terrible headache, feel quite nauseas and have blurred vision. And it can be worse in the morning because of gravity.
“I think three (consecutive mornings) is enough, especially. If you get a headache that is so bad that it wakes you. I’m not talking about if it wakes you at seven, I’m talking about if it wakes you at four in the morning and you go, 'it’s a thumping headache, what is that?'
"Nausea on it’s own without a headache wouldn’t worry me at all. But if you are consistently waking up with a blinding headache and nausea so bad it wakes you, I think you need to go straight to a doctor."
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