Nausea and Acid Reflux: The Connection Between Them

By Zina Semenovskaya, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
January 18, 2022

If you’ve got that horrible feeling in your throat like a burning sensation that makes it difficult to swallow, then you may have acid reflux, otherwise known as gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD).

Unfortunately, the irritation in your throat is just one of many symptoms you may experience when you have GERD.

Nausea, an uneasiness or discomfort in your stomach, is another. 

Usually brought on by eating a meal too fast or eating too much, an attack of GERD can cause an unsettling feeling in your stomach and throat and can be quite embarrassing when it’s brought on at the most inopportune times, like on a date, or right before an important meeting.

Fortunately, you’re not in this alone. Most of us will experience acid reflux at least once in our lives.

What is Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux typically feels like a burning sensation accompanied by a sour taste in your throat after you have over-indulged, eaten too quickly, or consumed too much of specific foods that trigger acid production.

It’s unpleasant, tastes awful, and can feel like there’s no way to relieve your symptoms.

Laying down also tends to make the symptoms worse.

Brought on by digestive issues and specifically occurring when stomach acid or bile enters the lower esophageal sphincter and irritates the food pipe lining, acid reflux can cause a burning sensation in your chest and major discomfort when speaking.

If you’ve ever felt your throat close after a spicy curry or greasy plate of bacon and eggs, or you were starving and wolfed down a large meal, you may have just signed yourself up for an attack of GERD.

Most cases will go away on their own in a few hours, or possibly faster when aided by over-the-counter medications or home remedies.

Symptoms

If you think you have acid reflux, you may have any or all the following symptoms:

  • Heartburn: a burning pain that can travel from your stomach to your lower abdomen and up to your chest. You may also experience this burning pain in your throat.
  • Dyspepsia (indigestion): this is a stomach upset that can be categorized by burping, belching, bloating, and heartburn.
  • Nausea: an upset stomach brought on by burping, heaving, or regurgitating.
  • Abdominal pain: cramping or pain in the abdominal area.
  • Regurgitation: a sour or bitter taste in your mouth or throat that may feel like you are heaving. You may experience this as wet burps. You may also experience dry-heaving
  • Dysphagia: the feeling of food being stuck in your throat.

Causes

There are several causes of acid reflux. These include:

  • Hiatal hernia: this is when the upper part of the stomach bulges through your diaphragm, the muscle that separates your stomach from your chest. Your diaphragm helps keep acid in your stomach but if you have a hiatal hernia, acid can move into your esophagus triggering acid reflux. Note that this is an internal hernia, meaning it won’t be visible from the outside when looking at your body.
  • Pregnancy: you are also more likely to get acid reflux from the pressure put on your stomach, as well as from the hormonal changes that take place during pregnancy.
  • Obesity: being overweight may push on your stomach and can worsen GERD.
  • Eating late at night: eating a meal too close to bedtime may not allow your body time to digest your food before going to bed, worsening symptoms of acid reflux.
  • Physical injury: although rare, an injury that prevents the lower esophageal sphincter from working properly.

In addition to health issues, the following foods can cause acid reflux and nausea:

  • Fried, greasy, or fatty foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Foods high in acidities such as citrus fruits and juices
  • Tomatoes and red sauces
  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint
  • Alcohol
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Coffee (both regular and decaf), and caffeinated beverages
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Acid Reflux and Nausea

What typically happens when we consume foods or liquids is that our lower esophageal sphincter closes to prevent any food particles or stomach acids from making their way back up into our food tube, otherwise known as the esophagus.

However, when we experience acid reflux, some of our stomach acids may find a way to creep up into our esophagus.

This can encourage coughing and burping which then may result in nausea. 

Treating Nausea from Acid Reflux

Your impulse when experiencing nausea from acid reflux may be to lie down.

Lying down can unfortunately aggravate your acid reflux more so instead, consider finding a calm, quiet place to sit for a while.

In most cases, acid reflux can also be treated with home remedies, lifestyle changes, and over-the-counter medications.

At-Home Remedies

  • Chew gum: According to the NCBI, chewing gum when experiencing acid reflux could induce increased swallowing frequency which helps to clear out the amount of acid that has refluxed rate of reflux into the esophagus, potentially reducing symptoms.
  • Take Ginger Supplements: ginger is a key ingredient in some Chinese medicine and can work as an anti-inflammatory in your system. Taking ginger supplements, which should be done, sparingly, can also help calm your stomach.

Lifestyle Changes 

  • Lose weight
  • Stay hydrated
  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid food triggers
  • Eat smaller meals
  • Don’t eat a large meal within two hours of lying down or going to bed
  • Sleep with your head elevated
  • Eliminate caffeine from your diet

Medications

  • Antacids: Mylanta, Rolaids, and Tums are Antacids that work quickly and efficiently to neutralize stomach acid. They are an over-the-counter method and you should consider visiting a doctor if acid reflux is a regular recurrence.
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): PPIs such as Prevacid, Nexium, and Prilosec are best taken before a meal and can reduce stomach acid, allowing the lining of the esophagus to heal.
  • H-2-receptor blockers: This includes Zantac 360, Pepcid, Tagamet, and Axid. Take these to reduce the amount of acid the stomach produces. These do not work as quickly as Antacids but they can reduce stomach acid for up to 12 hours.
  • Anti-nausea medications: these include Metoclopramide (Reglan) and Ondansetron (Zofran) and can help reduce nausea. Metoclopramide is also a pro-motility agent, which can help minimize the occurrence of acid reflux that’s due to certain medical conditions, such as diabetes.
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When to See a Doctor

It’s time to see a doctor when you have explored your options with home remedies, over-the-counter medications, and lifestyle changes and are still experiencing symptoms.

Ongoing symptoms could indicate a more serious health condition especially if you have acid reflux regularly. 

If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately:

  • Severe chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pain in the neck, jaw, or arm, 
  • Vomiting blood or black material
  • Drastic weight loss
  • A severe chronic cough or choking sensation

Mild cases of acid reflux can be cured with over-the-counter medicine, but recurring symptoms or or severe symptoms could indicate a more serious health condition and should be evaluated by a doctor right away.

A physician will take a thorough history, perform physical examination, and may obtain imaging or endoscopy if you are over 60 years old or otherwise at high risk for ulcers and other serious medical condition.

Your doctor may also want to do a blood or stool test to determine if your recurring GERD is the result of a bacterial infection that will need antibiotic treatment.

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app? Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is nausea a common symptom of acid reflux?
Yes, nausea is a common symptom of acid reflux, which is caused by the increased production of acid in the stomach resulting in an upset stomach.
Will nausea from acid reflux go away on its own?
Most cases of acid reflux will go away on their own after a few hours and potentially faster with over-the-counter medicines such as antacids. Nausea should go away when your acid reflux dies down.
Can nausea from acid reflux get worse overtime?
If you experience recurring cases of GERD and your symptoms become more severe, you may experience more intense nausea over time. In most cases, GERD can be alleviated with over-the-counter medications, lifestyle changes, and home remedies. However, if GERD becomes a regular recurrence, you should get examined by a health care professional to make sure it’s not the result of a more serious health condition.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Zina Semenovskaya, MD

Dr. Semenovskaya specializes in emergency medicine, and received her medical degree from Weill Cornell Medical College. She is currently the medical director at Remote Emergency Medicine Consulting, LLC and splits her time working clinically as an emergency medicine attending in California and Alaska. She is the first of our doctors to be fluent in Russian.