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What Is Vomiting?

Vomiting is forcing the stomach contents up through the esophagus and out of the mouth. It may be involuntary or done on purpose.

What Causes Vomiting?

There are numerous diseases and disorders that can cause vomiting. Most causes are viral infections called gastroenteritis. Bowel diseases such as intestinal obstruction, gallbladder attack, stomach ulcers, and appendicitis are more serious causes.

Medicines such as chemotherapy, codeine, morphine, and antibiotics commonly cause nausea and vomiting.

Stress-related psychological problems and bulimia nervosa are other common causes, as are pain, vertigo, surgery, severe burns, trauma, and motion sickness (getting sick on airplanes, cars, boats, and trains).

What Are the Symptoms of Vomiting?

Most people have nausea before vomiting. People with gastroenteritis also have cramps in the abdomen (belly), diarrhea, chills, and low-grade fever. Main gastritis symptoms are upper abdominal pain and cramps with vomiting. Intestinal obstruction, appendicitis, and gallbladder attack usually also cause abdominal pain and fever.

How Is Vomiting Diagnosed?

The health care provider will make a diagnosis by a physical examination. In some cases blood and urine tests and x-rays may be done to look for a cause of the vomiting.

How Is Vomiting Treated?

Treatment depends on the cause. The key is to replace fluids and electrolytes (special substances that control fluid balance in the body). Clear broth or special oral glucose-electrolyte solutions are used. Severe symptoms may mean hospitalization and intravenous fluids. Antibiotics may help bacterial, but not viral, infections. Antacids, over-the-counter histamine-2 (H2) blockers, and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) such as omeprazole control mild gastritis symptoms when the cause is due to stomach inflammation. Antiemetic medicines can help nausea and vomiting of gastroenteritis.

Gallbladder attack, appendicitis, and intestinal obstruction usually need hospitalization and surgery.

People with bulimia need cognitive and behavioral therapy.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Vomiting:

  • DO consume only liquids if you vomit repeatedly. Start a soft, bland diet if you can. Then slowly return to a normal diet.
  • DO take your medicine as instructed.
  • DO lie back in the seat and take slow deep breaths when you’re in a car, boat, or plane. Try to sit where there’s least motion.
  • DO rest in bed near the bathroom or with the bedpan handy.
  • DO contact the local health department if many people are sick after eating at the same event to help find the infection’s source.
  • DO cook and store foods properly.
  • DO wash your hands after using the bathroom and when preparing foods. Keep cooking areas and utensils clean.
  • DO call your health care provider if symptoms don’t get better after 48 hours or worsen after treatment starts.
  • DO call your health care provider if you vomit and become faint or dizzy when changing positions suddenly.
  • DO call your health care provider if vomiting is so bad that you cannot keep liquids down.
  • DON’T use alcoholic and caffeinated beverages.
  • DON’T read or watch the horizon while in a moving vehicle.
  • DON’T eat anything for at least 2 hours before bedtime.
  • DON’T bend over or lie down right after eating.
  • DON’T eat raw seafood or meat.
  • DON’T eat fresh unwashed vegetables or unpasteurized foods.
  • DON’T drink tap water or eat raw foods when traveling abroad. Fruits that you peel before eating are usually safe.

Contact the following sources:

  • National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
    Tel: (800) 891-5389
  • American College of Gastroenterology
    Tel: (703) 820-7400
  • Gastro-Intestinal Research Foundation
    Tel: (312) 332-1350

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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