HEALTH ENCYCLOPEDIA

Diseases & Conditions A - Z
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Vomiting

What is Vomiting?

Vomiting is a forceful discharge of stomach contents. Vomiting can be a one-time event linked to something that doesn’t settle right in the stomach. Recurrent vomiting may be attributed to numerous underlying medical conditions. Frequent vomiting may also lead to dehydration. This is a potentially deadly condition when left untreated.

Causes of Vomiting

Vomiting is common. Eating too much food or alcohol can make a person throw up. This generally isn’t a cause for concern. Vomiting itself is not a condition, but rather a symptom of other conditions. Some common causes of this symptom include:

  • food poisoning
  • indigestion
  • infections (associated with bacterial and viral illnesses)
  • motion sickness
  • pregnancy-related morning sickness
  • headaches
  • prescription medications
  • anesthesia
  • chemotherapy
  • Crohn’s disease

Frequent vomiting not related to any of these causes may be a symptom of cyclic vomiting syndrome. This condition is characterized by vomiting for up to 10 days at a time. It is usually coupled with nausea and extreme lack of energy. It mainly occurs during childhood.

While it also affects adults, recurrent vomiting is often dismissed as being related to another condition. According to the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications, up to 2,000 out of every 100,000 children experience cyclic vomiting syndrome (LHNCBC). When left untreated, this condition can cause vomiting episodes several times throughout the year.

Vomiting Emergencies

While vomiting is a common symptom, certain conditions warrant emergency medical attention. A doctor should be sought immediately if a person:

  • vomits for more than one day
  • suspects food poisoning
  • has a severe headache accompanied by stiff neck
  • has severe abdominal pain

Blood in the vomit is another reason to call emergency services. Also called hematemesis, vomiting blood refers to a situation in which a patient:

  • vomits large amounts of red blood
  • spits up dark blood
  • coughs up a substance that looks like coffee grounds

Throwing up small amounts of blood is not hematemesis. Vomiting blood is often caused by ulcers, ruptured blood vessels, and stomach bleeding. It can also be caused by some forms of cancer. This condition is often accompanied by dizziness. A person who vomits blood should call a doctor immediately.

Complications of Vomiting

Dehydration is the most common vomiting related complication. When you throw up, your stomach not only expels food, you also lose fluids. Dehydration can cause:

  • dry mouth
  • fatigue
  • dark urine
  • decreased urination

This complication is especially serious in infants and young children who vomit. This is because younger children have less fluid to sustain themselves due to smaller body mass. Parents whose children show symptoms of dehydration should talk to a pediatrician immediately.

Malnutrition is another complication of vomiting. Failure to keep down solid foods causes the body to gradually lose nutrients. People experiencing excessive fatigue and weakness related to frequent vomiting should seek medical attention.

Vomiting Treatments

Generally, treatment for vomiting addresses the underlying cause. Treatment is not necessary for throwing up once in a while. Hydration is important, even if a patient vomits only once. Drinking clear liquids is recommended, preferably those containing electrolytes. These help provide essential nutrients lost through vomiting. Avoiding food until six hours after a person has finished vomiting is also recommended. Solid foods can irritate a sensitive stomach, increasing the chances of throwing up.

For frequent vomiting, a doctor might prescribe antiemetic drugs. These medications help to reduce episodes of throwing up. Alternative remedies, such as ginger, bergamot, and lemongrass oil may also help. Use of supplements should be authorized by a doctor as they may cause drug interactions.

Dietary changes can also help recurrent vomiting. These are especially helpful for morning sickness. Foods that help to alleviate vomiting include:

  • non-greasy foods
  • smaller meals throughout the day
  • saltine crackers to ward off nausea
  • ginger products, such as ginger ale

Preventing Vomiting

Treatment plans are the best course of action for related medical conditions. Triggers of vomiting can vary between patients. These may include:

  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • eating too much food
  • migraines
  • exercising after eating
  • stress
  • hot or spicy foods
  • lack of sleep

Adopting better lifestyle habits can help prevent vomiting episodes. While the occasional flu virus cannot be avoided, knowing how to treat recurrent vomiting can help a person avoid further health complications.


Content licensed from:

Written by: Kristeen Cherneyon: Dec 02, 2016

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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