Better Health: Preventing and dealing with nausea on the road

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Nausea is rarely a sign of something serious, but the associated vomiting and other symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and interfere with driving. Here are some of the most common causes.

FOOD POISONING. Raw foods such as salads and other produce are often food poisoning culprits because harmful organisms on the food aren’t destroyed by cooking. Undercooked or raw meat also can cause food poisoning.

Symptoms include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. These symptoms can start within hours or be delayed for weeks. Food poisoning usually lasts from a few hours to several days.

STOMACH VIRUS. Viral gastroenteritis, sometimes called stomach flu, isn’t influenza because it’s not affecting the respiratory system. Gastroenteritis instead attacks your intestines, often causing diarrhea, abdominal cramps and pain, nausea, vomiting and a low-grade fever. Symptoms can appear within one to three days after infection and last from one to 10 days.

Viral gastroenteritis is contracted most commonly through eating or drinking contaminated food or water or by sharing utensils with someone who’s infected. Dehydration is the main complication of these viruses, so drink plenty of water while sick.

GASTROPARESIS. This condition affects stomach muscles, preventing your stomach from emptying properly. Certain medications – such as opioid pain relievers, antidepressants and high blood pressure medications – also can slow gastric emptying.

Signs of gastroparesis include vomiting, nausea, acid reflux, abdominal bloating and pain, lack of appetite and more. The causes are often unclear, but a known one is damage to the vagus nerve, which controls the stomach muscles. The Mayo Clinic says this nerve can be damaged by diseases such as diabetes or by stomach or small-intestine surgery.

Those who take narcotic medications or have diabetes, a viral infection or thyroid conditions are at a higher risk for gastroparesis. The condition can cause severe dehydration, malnutrition, unpredictable blood sugar changes and more.

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Prevention and treatment

  • To avoid nausea-producing conditions, wash your hands regularly, keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods, and cook foods to safe temperatures. Avoid sharing utensils. Avoid contact with anyone showing nausea symptoms. Disinfect hard surfaces.
  • Seek medical attention if you have frequent episodes of vomiting and the inability to keep foods down, bloody vomit or stools, extreme abdominal pain or severe cramping, diarrhea for more than three days or a fever higher than 100.4 degrees.
  • Food poisoning often can be diagnosed based on how long you’ve been sick, your symptoms, signs of dehydration and specific foods you’ve eaten. Treatment can include I.V. replacement of lost fluids or antibiotics for certain types of bacterial food poisoning.
  • Because gastroparesis usually is caused by an underlying condition, the first step is for a doctor to identify and treat that condition. If diabetes is the cause, your doctor can help you control it. Certain prescription medications can help stimulate the stomach muscles.
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