Many panic attack symptoms resemble those of more serious illnesses. It's one of the main reasons that those with panic attacks tend to believe they have some severe health problem, and often believe that they're not really suffering from panic attacks at all.
One of the symptoms that most resembles an illness is panic attack nausea, and while not everyone with panic attacks will become nauseated, those that do often fear that they may be suffering from something worse.
Nausea = Panic Attacks?
Nausea is a common feature of severe panic attacks, especially those with other physical symptoms. Learn more about how to control nausea and your panic attacks with my free 7-minute anxiety test.
Causes of Nausea From Panic Attacks
The first thing to note about nausea – and all panic attack symptoms – is that those with panic attacks tend to exhibit "monitoring" behaviors, which means that they are more prone to noticing physical sensations that may be very weak that others may not notice. So while nausea may be severe to you, it may have been weak to someone without panic. Make sure you take my anxiety test before reading onward to learn more.
Nausea can also be caused by issues unrelated to panic that tend to occur at the same time, and they can be secondary symptoms caused by other issues with panic attacks. Examples of nausea causes include:
- Stress Related Gastrointestinal Distress The most common reason is simply stress. When the body is extremely stressed, the digestive system is the first to experience the adrenaline rushes and tension, which disrupt digestive enzymes and function and lead to nausea. Panic attacks are incredibly stressful events, so experiencing nausea is likely a result of the effects of that tension.
- Digestion Shutdown When the body is coping with panic attacks, the experience is often so severe that other parts of the brain that are "less important" slow down or shut off. The digestive system is one of them. Those with panic attacks often notice the need to urinate during an anxiety attack. That's the same idea – panic attacks take up so many resources that other parts of the brain weaken temporarily, leading to these types of issues – especially if you've recently eaten.
- Acid Reflux An unrelated reason may be related to stomach acids and acid reflux. Those with severe panic attacks and acid reflux disease may be more likely to experience both at the same time, often with panic attacks resulting from some GERD symptoms. Panic attacks and anxiety also increase stomach acids further, which could result in excess nausea.
- Sensitivity Some people simply experience mild nausea once in a while when they eat certain foods, drink caffeine, etc. Most can ignore it without issue, but during a panic attack, the feeling tends to feel amplified, which in turn makes it seem like the nausea is much worse – and much more distressing.
Combine all of these issues, and it's not much of a surprise that panic attacks lead to nausea. In rare cases, they may even lead to vomiting, although this tends to be uncommon.
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In uncommon cases nausea may also be psychosomatic, meaning your mind is creating the feeling of nausea even though the nausea isn't really there. This is much more common in those that have health anxiety, and fear that their panic attacks may actually be heart attacks. Vomiting is a problem with those suffering from heart attacks, so those with panic attacks that think they're heart attacks may start to notice nausea when it's not really there because their fear is so strong that they start misinterpreting the way their body feels.
Ways to Stop Panic Attack Nausea
Those suffering from panic attack nausea can reduce it. Most changes need to be made before the panic attack begins. Once it's started, it can be hard to control nausea itself.
First, make sure you're drinking enough water. Panic attacks can exacerbate other problems, and since the majority of the country is dehydrated, drinking too little water can be an issue. Also, while diet doesn't affect anxiety, it can affect digestion, and so it's important that you are also eating easy to digest foods. Staying away from fast food can be a clear change that may improve digestion in general, and thus reduce nausea.
But of course, the key thing you'll need to do is learn to control your panic attacks. If you control your panic attacks, your nausea will be reduced as a result.
I've helped thousands of people with panic attack nausea start seeing real changes in their mental health. Make sure you take my free 7-minute anxiety test now to start reducing your anxiety and panic.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Dec 05, 2017.