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Does IBS Cause Nausea?
Updated on August 7, 2023
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Does IBS Cause Nausea?

Nausea is a common symptom of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It may also be a symptom of other conditions related to IBS or commonly accompanying it. 

While it’s often uncomfortable, it’s not usually a serious effect of IBS.

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a group of symptoms of the gastrointestinal tract that tend to occur together.

It affects the stomach and intestines and is a chronic condition. Because it may come and go, its symptoms must be managed.1 Many describe IBS as “having a sensitive gut.”

“Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is different from Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD). IBS is a non-inflammatory condition that primarily affects the colon. IBD, on the other hand, is an inflammatory condition that can span the entire gut,” explains our in-house medical expert, Dr. Rizza Mira.

IBS can change the appearance and frequency of your bowel movements. Diarrhea and constipation are both possible effects of IBS.

In some cases, it can also cause abdominal pain through stomach cramps. Nausea can also be a symptom included in IBS.

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Is Nausea a Symptom of IBS?

IBS may result in nausea

It is an IBS symptom that occurs slightly more often in women than in men.2 It is a common symptom of IBS though it is not as associated with the condition as diarrhea or constipation.

Nausea can be the effect of many IBS-related conditions. It may also be due to an overlap between IBS and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which causes the contents of one’s stomach to sometimes go back up to the esophagus.

IBS could also cause nerves in the intestinal tracts to become sensitive and inflamed as an overreaction to certain types of food.3

“This is why it’s important for doctors to find out if nausea is part of a co-occurring condition that can pose a threat to life,” says Dr. Mira.

Other Common IBS Symptoms

As irritable bowel syndrome is a “syndrome” rather than a disease, it refers more to a specific set of symptoms that typically occur together. This means that these symptoms can be caused by one or more other overlapping diseases that affect the gastrointestinal tract.

Apart from nausea, other symptoms also include:

  • Constipation or fewer than three bowel movements per week
  • Diarrhea or frequent and watery stool
  • Bloating or a feeling of having an overfull belly
  • Stomach cramps, especially after eating
  • Flatulence or the frequent passing of gas
  • Incontinence or the inability to control poo timing
  • Frequent urination
  • The feeling that the bladder is not completely empty after peeing
  • Mucus in stool or white-colored poop
  • Lower back pain
  • Extreme tiredness which may be a result of being undernourished from frequent diarrhea
  • Tension and migraine headaches7
  • For biological women, IBS symptoms may also have an effect on menstrual cycle

Not all of these symptoms may affect a person with IBS and the severity of these symptoms vary from person to person. 

Symptoms of IBS may also be triggered by eating certain foods, typically acidic or fatty foods. Gastrointestinal symptoms may even be caused by being in emotional states such as extreme stress or depression. 

A person with IBS finds that they become more sensitive to many factors that may trigger their digestive system.

Understanding IBS-Related Nausea

Nausea is the feeling of wanting to vomit. It is typically a result of a person ingesting something that may be harmful to them, and so the brain sends signals to the stomach and digestive tract to expel it. In the case of IBS, this may be the body’s overreaction.

IBS also commonly occurs alongside other gastrointestinal disorders such as GERD.4 GERD causes food to go back up to the esophagus, which may cause a feeling of wanting to vomit. Other causes include gastrointestinal transit problems, hyperacidity, and infections.

Medications used to treat IBS may cause nausea as well. Antibiotics are prescribed to deal with possible infections and other digestive diseases. Laxatives may also be prescribed to help facilitate better stool movement for someone suffering from indigestion. Both medications list nausea as a side effect.

How Does IBS Contribute to Nausea in the Morning?

Nausea symptoms related to irritable bowel syndrome may be worse in the morning. Overnight, there is a build-up of acid in the stomach and a decrease in stomach movement. This may cause nausea in the morning.

IBS mainly affects the gastrocolic reflex, the movements your intestines make to move food from the stomach to the intestines after eating. When this system overreacts, you end up with the main symptoms of IBS.5

The gastrocolic reflex, however, is also active in the morning, aside from being active after meals. This can create a feeling of morning nausea if nausea is already one of the symptoms of your IBS.

Morning Stomach Pain and IBS

Another common morning symptom of IBS is abdominal pains or stomach cramps. Constipation can exacerbate this since you tend to have bowel movements in the morning.

It is common for IBS symptoms to flare up in the morning alongside GERD and acid reflux symptoms.

Disrupted Circadian Rhythm

Having a disrupted circadian rhythm can also trigger IBS symptoms and result in morning nausea, among other symptoms. 

The circadian rhythm refers to the various body functions that your body cycles through over the course of 24 hours. It usually refers to the sleep-wakefulness cycle. Metabolism and digestion are also interlinked with this cycle. Bowel movements decrease at night and increase again in the morning upon waking.8

Interrupting the sleep cycle has a negative effect on healthy bowel movements. Sleeping or waking at irregular hours or interrupted sleep may make IBS symptoms worse. 

Managing IBS Symptoms: Treatment and Lifestyle Changes

There are many ways to manage the symptoms of IBS and make the condition easier to live with. As many as 7% to 15% of Americans have irritable bowel syndrome, and it is one of the most common reasons to visit gastroenterologists.6 It is a common condition that many are able to live with.

Food Choices that Help You Avoid IBS

The most impactful way to manage irritable bowel syndrome is to avoid trigger foods to reduce symptoms. These include fatty and oily foods such as deep-fried food, spicy and acidic foods that may trigger GERD, dairy products, and artificial sweeteners.

Instead, switch to an IBS-friendly diet:

  • Eating homecooked meals ensures that you are fully in control of the preparation of your food and can ensure hygienic standards
  • Using fresh ingredients helps avoid pesticides and other preservatives that may trigger a sensitive digestive tract
  • Increase fiber in your diet from fruits, vegetables, and oats to promote stool movement
  • Incorporate fresh fruits and taking probiotics such as yogurt into your diet to help develop healthier gut flora
  • Eat more consistently every day to habitualize an ideal digestive cycle
  • Don’t miss breakfast if you suffer from constipation as eating a meal in the morning is the best way to take advantage of the morning gastrocolic reflex to pass stool regularly
  • Keeping a food diary may help in pinpointing what your specific triggers are

Apart from adjusting your diet, regular exercise and sleep also greatly contribute to having healthy digestion.

Medical and Therapeutic Interventions for IBS

For more severe cases of IBS, medication may also be considered to alleviate some of its more debilitating symptoms, especially nausea:

  • Laxatives – For those suffering from constipation
  • Anti-diarrheal agents (such as loperamide) - For those suffering from loose stool
  • Antiemetics – In the case of extreme nausea or frequent vomiting
  • Fiber and probiotic supplements – For those low in fiber or probiotics
  • Medications that help the bowel relax

Remember that these interventions are to help alleviate discomfort, not to get rid of IBS altogether.

“Most of the medications are for control of symptoms as they arise. IBS has no exact cure,” explains Dr. Mira.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychiatric intervention that may also help people suffering from IBS.

Bowel health is also linked to stress via the gut-brain connection that triggers IBS. Cognitive behavioral therapy may aid in regulating emotional responses that contribute to IBS. Reducing stress can also help reduce the severity of IBS symptoms.

When Should You Speak to a Doctor About IBS and Nausea?

IBS and related nausea can be treated with many over-the-counter medications and home remedies. However, when symptoms become severe, it is best to consult with your doctor or healthcare provider.

Severe symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting that prevents the eating of meals
  • Sharp and debilitating abdominal pain
  • Extended bouts of diarrhea or constipation
  • Feeling nauseous or feeling sick suddenly without any clear triggers may be a sign of more serious infections or diseases
  • High fever

If the effects of IBS are also impacting your mental health, speak to a mental health professional.

Living with IBS

Living with a chronic, long-term condition like IBS requires strategies. This requires big lifestyle changes that may not be the easiest, such as improving eating habits and changing your diet.

IBS can also impact relationships and day-to-day life, as someone suffering from many symptoms might not anymore be able to eat the same foods or participate in the same activities as others. 

People with IBS who experience nausea regularly may find their ideal lifestyles disrupted.

IBS is still, however, a common condition, and your experiences may be shared by millions of other Americans also suffering from IBS. Many remedies and interventions exist and make it possible to live with IBS.

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Updated on August 7, 2023
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Updated on August 7, 2023
Will Hunter
Will Hunter
Content Contributor
Will is a content writer for KnowYourDNA. He received his B.A. in Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Will has 7 years of experience writing health-related content, with an emphasis on nutrition, alternative medicine, and longevity.
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