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Just so we're clear on what nausea is, nausea is an urge to vomit. Usually when you feel nauseous you will go ahead and vomit. But when you just feel nauseous, and you don't vomit, then there is a possibility of a much more serious condition, especially if nausea comes on just after a session with the chiropractor.

Sometimes nausea isn't in your digestive tract. It's in your brain. An interruption of flow to the base of the brain through the vertebral arteries generates a series of symptoms including nausea, primarily, but also:

  • Pain and numbness on just one side of the face.
  • Loss of the ability to taste, but on just one side of the tongue.
  • Loss of hearing, but just in one ear.
  • Trouble swallowing.
  • Dizziness, loss of equilibrium.
  • Images that move when the head moves.
  • Double vision.
  • In rare cases, partial paralysis.
When these symptoms occur after a visit with the chiropractor that includes a neck (cervical) adjustment, seek medical attention right away.

And if all you experience is nausea, don't just ignore it. There is real risk of stroke. And the most common victims of this kind of neck injury are teenagers and young adults, aged 15 to 24. It isn't old people who are seriously injured by the wrong kind of chiropractic adjustment. It's young people.

The reason that neck adjustments can cause nausea and other serious symptoms is that there are two vertebral arteries that wrap around the spinal column inside the neck on their way up to the brain. They go pass through holes in bones in the neck.

These arteries carry oxygenated blood up to the brain stem, which connects the rest of the brain to the spinal cord. If something happens to your brain stem, you might retain your ability to think, but you wouldn't retain your ability to move or most of your sensory inputs except hearing. You could be "locked in" to your own mind, unable to move a muscle, but completely aware of the world around you.

What happens during an improperly executed neck adjustment is that the vertebral arteries get stretched further than they can go. The arteries can get "kinked," or if they are damaged by cholesterol, they can tear.

If the tear, or "arterial dissection," is a big one, the patient collapses on the table. If the tear is tiny, it may form a clot, and that clot may keep blood from leaking out of the artery for a few hours, or a few days, or a few weeks. When the clot "busts," however, blood can't reach the brain and a hypovolemic, "brain drain" kind of stroke results.

The first sign that there is a problem with the artery is likely to be nausea that isn't related to eating spoiled food or motion sickness.

About 1300 people a year, just in the USA, have strokes caused by chiropractic adjustments.

Twenty percent of all "basilar" or brain stem strokes are caused by chiropractic adjustments. The most common payout for malpractice insurance claims against chiropractors is this kind of stroke.

So what can you do to make sure this doesn't happen to you?

  • Don't rely on your chiropractor not to give you a neck adjustment without asking. Before the session starts, let your chiropractor know you are concerned about safety for your neck.
  • If you experience any of the symptoms listed above after you have gone to see a chiropractor, go to an emergency room right away. It can save your life.

Chiropractors have produced studies that have found that a single thrust to the neck during a chiropractic spinal adjustment "usually" is less than 1/10 of the force needed to sever a vertebral artery. The problem is, not every case is "usual." Neck adjustments are for experts, and at the very least, share your concerns with your chiropractor before your session.

One further note: Another source of this kind of injury is bending the neck too far over a sink for a shampoo. Make sure your hairdresser puts a towel or other support under your neck before giving you a shampoo.

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