Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting, are not diseases. They are symptoms that can be caused by many different conditions. Nausea is an uneasy or unsettled feeling in the stomach combined with an urge to vomit. Vomiting is the forcible voluntary or involuntary emptying ("throwing up") of stomach contents through the mouth.

The causes of vomiting differ according to age. For children, it is common for vomiting to occur from a viral infection, a high fever, overeating,  food poisoning, milk allergies and even coughing.  The most common causes of nausea and vomiting in adults are the morning sickness of pregnancy and viral gastroenteritis which is often mistakenly termed "stomach flu”.  Other infections, migraine headaches, motion sickness, food poisoning, cancer chemotherapy and medications are other common causes.   Many medications can cause nausea and vomiting, as can general anesthesia for surgery.

The timing of the nausea or vomiting can often help determine  the cause. When appearing shortly after a meal, nausea or vomiting may be caused by food poisoning gastritis, or an ulcer. Nausea or vomiting one to eight hours after a meal may also indicate food poisoning. However, certain food borne bacteria, such as salmonella can take longer to produce symptoms.

When to see a doctor

Rarely, nausea and vomiting may indicate a serious or even life-threatening problem; however it is important to know when you should see a doctor.  You should see a doctor immediately if you have:

  • If there is blood in the vomit or it resembles “coffee grounds"
  • Vomited for longer than 24 hours
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • A severe headache or stiff neck, especially if you have not experienced this before.
  •  Signs of dehydration, such as dry mouth, infrequent urination or dark urine.
  • Vomiting lasts more than two days for adults, 24 hours for children under age 2 or 12 hours for infants
  • You have periodic bouts of nausea and vomiting for longer than one month
  • You've experienced unexplained weight loss along with nausea and vomiting

What to do While Waiting to see Your Doctoor

There are several self-care measures that may help while you wait for your appointment with your doctor:

  • Rest-Too much activity and not getting enough rest might make your nausea worse.
  • Avoid Dehydration-It’s very easy to become dehydrated. To avoid this take small sips of cool, clear liquids.  Carbonated drinks like ginger ale, sour drinks like lemonade and of course water are ideal.
  • Eat Bland Foods-Start with easily digested foods like crackers and toast. When you can keep these down, try cereal, rice, fruit, and salty or high-protein, high carbohydrate foods. Avoid fatty or spicy foods. Don’t attempt to eat solid foods until about six hours after the last time you vomited.
  •  Avoid Strong Odors-Food and cooking smells, perfume, smoke, stuffy rooms can trigger nausea.  Heat, humidity, and motion; both boats and driving can also trigger of nausea and vomiting.

Some Causes of Nausea & Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting are not diseases, but they are symptoms of many conditions such as:

  • Pregnancy
  • Viral Infections of the Gastrointestinal Tract (viral gastroenteritis)
  • Food Poisoning
  • Stomach Ulcers and GERD
  • Gallbladder Disease
  • Motion sickness or seasickness
  • Certain Medications
  • Intense pain
  • Emotional stress (such as fear)
  • Overeating
  • A reaction to certain smells or odors
  • Heart attack
  • Concussion or brain injury
  • Brain tumor
  • Some forms of cancer
  • Bulimia or other psychological illnesses
  • Gastroparesis or slow stomach emptying (a condition often seen in people with diabetes)
  • Ingestion of toxins or excessive amounts of alcohol
  • Bowel obstruction