Vomiting is an uncomfortable experience that everyone endures at some point. Also called throwing up or emesis, vomiting is the forceful ejection of stomach contents up through the esophagus and out the mouth. While vomiting can sometimes provide relief, frequent or prolonged episodes can be concerning.
8 Common Causes Of Vomiting
Vomiting results from irritation or disruption of the vomiting center in the brain. This center controls the abdominal muscles and diaphragm needed to expel stomach contents. Vomiting is often a symptom of an underlying issue rather than a disorder itself.
Let’s explore some of the most common causes of vomiting and how to treat them.
1. Food Poisoning and Stomach Viruses
One of the most frequent reasons people experience vomiting is a gastrointestinal infection, often referred to as stomach flu. Sources include norovirus, rotavirus, Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter bacteria.
Food poisoning is another common culprit. Toxins or pathogens contaminating food or drink can lead to nausea and vomiting. Meat, eggs, dairy, fish, shellfish, and raw produce are high-risk foods if handled improperly.
With gastrointestinal infections, vomiting allows the expulsion of the infectious organism or toxin. Dehydration from frequent vomiting is the main medical concern.
Treatment involves resting and replenishing fluids to prevent dehydration. Over-the-counter anti-nausea medications can provide relief. Most acute infections resolve within 24-48 hours. Call a doctor if symptoms are severe or persist longer.
2. Motion Sickness
Motion sickness stems from conflicting signals sent to the brain during motion that do not match your body’s physical sensations. It can occur in cars, airplanes, boats, amusement park rides, or virtual reality simulations.
The disconnect between vision, balance, and perception of movement creates nausea and vomiting. Children tend to be more susceptible to motion sickness.
To prevent or treat motion sickness, focus vision on the horizon, open a window for fresh air, avoid heavy meals before travel, or take anti-nausea medication. Desensitization therapy can also help retrain the brain’s response over time.
3. Morning Sickness During Pregnancy
Nausea and vomiting affect up to 80% of pregnant women, especially in the first trimester. Hormonal changes are believed to be the primary cause. Thankfully, morning sickness poses no harm to the developing baby.
Lifestyle adjustments like eating small frequent meals, staying hydrated, and avoiding nausea triggers can help minimize symptoms. Vitamin B6 supplements may also be beneficial. If vomiting is severe, causing dehydration and weight loss, prescription medications are available.
Morning sickness typically resolves by weeks 14-16 of pregnancy. Persistent vomiting later in pregnancy warrants medical evaluation to rule out preeclampsia or gestational diabetes.
Migraines often involve nausea or vomiting. During a migraine attack, irritation of the trigeminal nerve system can cause changes in brainstem pathways that control nausea and vomiting reflexes. Vomiting brings temporary relief but often returns later in the attack.
Triggers for migraine vomiting include stress, hormonal fluctuations, weather changes, sleep disruption, dehydration, and certain foods. Preventing migraine attacks is ideal to avoid vomiting episodes. Acute treatments include antinausea medication, rest, and hydration.
5. Medication Side Effects
Many medications list nausea and vomiting as potential adverse effects. The brainstem vomiting center is highly sensitive to chemical disturbances from drugs. Some drugs also irritate the stomach lining directly.
Chemotherapy drugs, opioids, antibiotics, antidepressants, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories are some drug classes prone to causing vomiting. Motion sickness medications can ironically cause vomiting as well.
Switching drugs or lowering the dosage often solves medication-induced vomiting. Taking medications with food or antinausea drugs also helps. Treating any underlying condition contributing to vomiting can improve tolerance.
6. Overeating and Drinking Too Much Alcohol
Consuming excessive amounts of food or alcohol in a short period can trigger vomiting. The stomach is unable to accommodate large volumes, resulting in an ejection of contents by the vomiting reflex.
In binge drinking, alcohol toxicity directly stimulates the vomiting center. This is the body’s way of expelling the toxin and protecting the airway from aspiration. Hangovers after drinking involve queasiness and vomiting due to alcohol’s effects.
The solution is pacing the consumption of meals and limiting alcohol intake. For routine overeaters or drinkers, vomiting provides feedback to moderate quantities. Learning healthier habits can prevent a repeat.
7. Emotional Stress and Anxiety
Severe stress, anxiety, fear, and emotional trauma can manifest physically with nausea and vomiting. The brain-gut connection means our emotions often transmit to the GI tract.
In times of high tension, activation of the “fight or flight” nervous system can stimulate the vomiting reflex. Those with chronic anxiety disorders frequently have upset stomachs.
Relaxation techniques, social support, counseling, and antianxiety medications are helpful tools for managing stress-related vomiting. Addressing the root cause of stress and learning coping skills are also beneficial.
8. Serious Medical Conditions
While most causes of vomiting are benign, numerous serious illnesses also list vomiting as a symptom. Red flags include persistent vomiting, vomiting with abdominal pain or headaches, bloody vomit, or vomiting along with confusion.
Some examples of conditions that may produce frequent, severe vomiting include blockages in the intestines or bowels, pancreatitis, meningitis, kidney failure, heart attack, and appendicitis.
Seeking prompt medical care for the evaluation of serious conditions is crucial. Diagnostic tests like bloodwork, CT scan, endoscopy, and ultrasound can determine if an urgent health problem is responsible.
Whether vomiting arises from infection, motion sickness, medication effects, or emotional causes, bringing it under control is the priority. Here are some treatment approaches to stop vomiting and prevent dehydration.
➜ Dietary Changes
When vomiting, give the stomach a rest by avoiding food and drinks initially. Sip small amounts of clear liquids after several hours and gradually increase to bland foods like crackers, rice, applesauce, and toast.
Avoid greasy, spicy, or heavy items until vomiting has resolved. Refrain from alcohol and caffeine. Small, frequent portions are easier to digest than large meals.
Over-the-counter drugs like Pepto-Bismol can ease nausea and vomiting in adults. Children may be prescribed Ondansetron to reduce vomiting from stomach bugs.
Antihistamines and anticholinergics like Meclizine treat motion sickness and vertigo-related vomiting. Severe cases may necessitate a prescription Phenergan or Zofran administered through IV fluids.
➜ Lifestyle Tips
Resting allows the body to recover faster. Staying hydrated with electrolyte drinks prevents dehydration. Apply a cool compress to the forehead for comfort.
When preparing for travel, have motion sickness remedies on hand and choose a seat near the front. For pregnancy, eat protein-rich snacks like yogurt and avoid spicy or acidic foods.
Reduce emotional stress with relaxation techniques. Avoiding triggers like certain smells or visuals can also minimize nausea.
When To See A Doctor?
Consult a doctor if vomiting persists over 48 hours, especially with concerning signs like blood or coffee-ground material in vomit. Seek emergency care for chest pain, confusion, fainting, or uncontrolled vomiting.
Call a doctor for children showing signs of dehydration from vomiting like crying without tears, dry mouth, dizziness, and dark urine. Seniors may also require IV fluids.
Ongoing issues with vomiting need medical investigation to pinpoint the cause and appropriate treatment. See your physician to improve your quality of life.
Vomiting serves a protective function but is never pleasant. Transient vomiting from infections, motion sickness, overindulgence, or nerves tends to resolve on its own. Making lifestyle adjustments can minimize recurrences.
However, recurrent or severe vomiting warrants medical attention to identify and treat any serious underlying disorder. Anti-nausea and antacid medications are effective tools for controlling symptoms.
Knowing the common causes of vomiting allows you to take sensible actions to prevent and treat it. Pay attention to red flag symptoms and don’t hesitate to involve your doctor for diagnosis and care when needed.
Vomiting from viral gastroenteritis or food poisoning generally lasts 24-48 hours but can persist 2-3 days before resolving.
Vomiting from morning sickness poses no direct harm to the developing baby. But managing nausea and vomiting is still important for mom’s health.
Yes, taking antinausea medication before traveling can help prevent motion sickness and vomiting. Natural remedies include ginger and acupressure wristbands.
Seek emergency care for vomiting with chest pain, head injury, confusion, bloody vomit, inability to keep down fluids, or vomiting over 48 hou
Many people vomit during migraine attacks. It’s caused by irritation of brainstem pathways that control nausea and vomiting reflexes.