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Nausea and Vomiting Overview
Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms that can be caused by numerous conditions. Nausea and vomiting most often are due to viral gastroenteritis often mistakenly termed “stomach flu” or the morning sickness of early pregnancy.
Many medications can cause nausea and vomiting, as can general anesthesia for surgery. Rarely, nausea and vomiting may indicate a serious or even life-threatening problem.
What Causes Nausea or Vomiting?
Nausea and vomiting are not diseases, but they are symptoms of many conditions such as:
- Motion sickness or seasickness
- Early stages of pregnancy (nausea occurs in approximately 50%-90% of all pregnancies; vomiting in 25%-55%)
- Medication-induced vomiting
- Intense pain
- Emotional stress (such as fear)
- Gallbladder disease
- Food poisoning
- Infections (such as the “stomach flu”)
- 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 that can be seen in people with diabetes)
- Ingestion of toxins or excessive amounts of alcohol
The causes of vomiting differ according to age. For children, it is common for vomiting to occur from a viral infection, food poisoning, milk allergy, motion sickness, overeating or feeding, coughing, or blocked intestines and illnesses in which the child has a high fever.
The timing of the nausea or vomiting can indicate the cause. When appearing shortly after a meal, nausea or vomiting may be caused by food poisoning, gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining), an ulcer, or bulimia. 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.
Who is more likely to experience nausea and vomiting?
Nausea and vomiting can occur in both children and adults. People who are undergoing cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy, have an increased risk of nausea and vomiting. Pregnant women in their first trimester may also experience nausea and vomiting, commonly referred to as “morning sickness.” It is estimated that 50 to 90 percent of pregnant women experience nausea, while 25 to 55 percent experience vomiting.
Treating Nausea and Vomiting
There are a number of ways to relieve nausea and vomiting, both at home and by using medications from the doctor.
Self-Treatment for Nausea
- consume only light, plain foods, such as bread and crackers
- avoid any foods that have strong flavors, are very sweet, or are greasy or fried
- drink cold liquids
- avoid any activity after eating
- have smaller, more frequent meals
Self-Treatment for Vomiting
- drink a large amount of clear fluids to remain hydrated
- avoid solid foods of any kind until vomiting has stopped
- avoid using medications that may upset the stomach, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, and blood thinners
- use an oral rehydrating solution to replace lost electrolytes
Before prescribing medication, you doctor will ask questions about when the nausea and vomiting began and when it is at its worst. You may be asked about your eating habits and whether anything makes the vomiting and nausea better or worse.
There are a number of prescription medications that can be used to control nausea and vomiting, including medications than can be taken during pregnancy. These include dolasetron (Anzemet), granesitron (Granisol), and trimethobenzamide (Tigan).