Nausea and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2023

Nausea is a common symptom in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Nausea is just one of many symptoms associated with IBS. Other IBS symptoms may include:1-3

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain and cramps
  • Bloating
  • Gas and flatulence

What is nausea?

Nausea is an uneasy feeling in the stomach that usually occurs with an urge to vomit. It is not a disease but rather a symptom of many different conditions.1,2

Who gets nausea?

Anyone can feel nauseous from time to time. Nausea can be caused by a number of different factors, like:1,2

  • Food poisoning
  • Stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis)
  • Morning sickness (during pregnancy)
  • Motion sickness
  • Indigestion
  • Various viruses
  • Certain medicines

For those with IBS, nausea may happen often. Nausea can affect people with IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D), IBS with constipation (IBS-C), or a combination of both (IBS-mixed bowel habits).3

Some research suggests that nausea is more common in women than in men. One study found that about 4 out of 10 women with IBS reported feelings of nausea. Nearly 3 in 10 men with IBS report having nausea.3

Why does IBS cause nausea?

It is not clear whether IBS directly causes nausea. Often, nausea is a symptom of other conditions that overlap with IBS. For example, nausea can occur for someone with IBS if they also have:3

  • Functional dyspepsia – frequent upset stomach that has no clear cause
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – when stomach acid flows back up into the throat and esophagus, causing heartburn and indigestion
  • Migraine headaches

Certain medicines used to treat IBS also can cause nausea.3,4

How is nausea treated?

Nausea can be treated several ways, depending on what is causing the nausea.3

Eliminate trigger foods

For those with IBS, some foods can cause stomach upset, bloating, and cramping, which can lead to feelings of nausea. If your nausea is caused by a food that triggers your IBS, you can stop eating that food to help with nausea symptoms.3,4

A diet that is low in FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols) may help with bloating and gas. It may also help with other symptoms like nausea. Talk with your doctor or a dietitian if you are interested in switching to a low FODMAP diet for a period of time.4

Eat light, bland foods

Eating light, bland foods can help if you are experiencing nausea. Try crackers or plain bread. Sipping on clear, ice-cold beverages can also help.2

Take anti-nausea drugs

Anti-nausea medicine can be helpful in many cases. Some anti-nausea medicine is available over the counter (OTC). Others are available through a prescription. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms to find out what they recommend.3,5

Try natural remedies

There are some natural remedies that can be effective at treating tummy troubles. Peppermint oil has been shown to provide some relief. Ginger is another natural remedy that can help calm upset stomach and nausea. Talk to your doctor about the natural remedies that would be safe for you to try.4,6

Get to the root cause

In order to treat nausea effectively, you will need to understand the reason behind it. Before taking any medicines, try to get to the root cause of your nausea. If you have IBS and are experiencing nausea, talk with your doctor.3

When to visit a doctor

In most cases, both nausea and vomiting get better after 6 to 24 hours and can be treated at home. However, if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, visit a doctor immediately:2

  • Blood in the vomit
  • Severe headache or stiff neck
  • Confusion and decreased alertness
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Vomiting with fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Vomiting and diarrhea together
  • Rapid breathing or pulse

If nausea is consistent and does not get better after 1 week, make an appointment with your doctor.2