Vomiting, or throwing up, is a forceful discharge of stomach contents. It can be a one-time event linked to something that doesn’t settle right in the stomach. Recurrent vomiting may be caused by underlying medical conditions. Frequent vomiting may also lead to dehydration, which can be life-threatening if left untreated.
Vomiting is common. Eating too much food or drinking too much alcohol can make a person throw up. This generally isn’t a cause for concern. Vomiting itself is not a condition. It’s a symptom of other conditions. Some of these conditions include:
- Food poisoning
- Infections (associated with bacterial and viral illnesses)
- Motion sickness
- Pregnancy-related morning sickness
- Prescription medications
- 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. It is usually coupled with nausea and extreme lack of energy. It mainly occurs during childhood.
According to the Mayo Clinic, cyclic vomiting syndrome usually affects children between the ages of 3 and 7. It occurs in approximately 3 out of every 100,000 children, according to a 2012 study.
This condition can cause vomiting episodes several times throughout the year when left untreated. It can also have serious complications that include:
- Tooth decay
- A tear in the esophagus
Vomiting is a common symptom, but it can sometimes require emergency medical attention. You should immediately go to the doctor if you:
- Vomit for more than one day
- Suspect food poisoning
- Have a severe headache accompanied by a stiff neck
- Have severe abdominal pain
You should also seek emergency services if there’s blood in the vomit, which is known as hematemesis. Hematemesis symptoms include:
- Vomiting large amounts of red blood
- Spitting up dark blood
- Coughing up a substance that looks like coffee grounds
Vomiting blood is often caused by:
- Ruptured blood vessels
- Stomach bleeding
It can also be caused by some forms of cancer. This condition is often accompanied by dizziness. If you vomit blood, call your doctor immediately or go to the nearest emergency department.
Dehydration is the most common complication related to vomiting. Vomiting causes your stomach to expel not only food but fluids, too. Dehydration can cause:
- Dry mouth
- Dark urine
- Decreased urination
Dehydration is especially serious in infants and young children who vomit. Younger children have smaller body mass and thus have less fluid to sustain themselves. Parents whose children show symptoms of dehydration should talk to their family pediatrician immediately.
Malnutrition is another complication of vomiting. Failure to keep down solid foods causes your body to lose nutrients. If you’re experiencing excessive fatigue and weakness related to frequent vomiting, seek medical attention.
Treatment for vomiting addresses the underlying cause. It’s not necessary for throwing up once in a while. But hydration is important even if you only vomit once. Drinking clear liquids is recommended. Clear liquids containing electrolytes can help provide essential nutrients lost through vomiting.
Solid foods can irritate a sensitive stomach, which increases your chances of throwing up. It may be beneficial to avoid solid foods until clear liquids are tolerated. Your doctor might prescribe antiemetic drugs for frequent vomiting. These medications help to reduce episodes of throwing up.
Alternative remedies like ingesting products that contain ginger, bergamot, and lemongrass oil may also help. Using alternative remedies may cause drug interactions. Talk to your doctor before starting any alternative remedies.
Dietary changes can also help with frequent vomiting. These are especially helpful for morning sickness. Foods that help to alleviate vomiting include:
- Nongreasy foods
- Saltine crackers
- Ginger products like ginger ale
You can also try eating smaller meals throughout the day.
Treatment plans are the best course of action if your vomiting is caused by a medical condition. Vomiting triggers can vary between people. These may include:
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Eating too much food
- Exercising after eating
- Hot or spicy foods
- Lack of sleep
Adopting healthier lifestyle habits can help prevent vomiting episodes. It’s difficult to entirely avoid viruses that cause vomiting. However, you can reduce your chances of getting a virus by exercising good hygiene, like washing your hands regularly.
Knowing how to treat recurrent vomiting can help you avoid further complications.
Frequently Asked Questions about Vomiting
Is vomiting a sign of something serious?
Nausea and vomiting in adults isn’t usually a sign of anything serious and tends to only last 1 or 2 days. Vomiting is the body’s way of ridding itself of harmful substances from the stomach, or it may be a reaction to something that has irritated the gut.
What does yellow vomit mean?
Green or yellow vomit may indicate that you’re bringing up a fluid called bile. This fluid is created by the liver and stored in your gallbladder. Bile isn’t always caused by concern. You may see it if you have a less serious condition that causes vomiting while your stomach is empty.
What should you do immediately after throwing up?
Do not eat or drink anything for several hours after vomiting. Sip small amounts of water or suck ice chips every 15 minutes for 3-4 hours. Next, sip clear liquids every 15 minutes for 3-4 hours. Examples include water, sports drinks, flat soda, clear broth, gelatin, flavored ice, popsicles or apple juice.
How does vomiting affect my body?
When a vomit is looming, a signal is sent to an area of the brain called the chemoreceptor trigger zone, or CTZ. The CTZ receives this information and determines if the threat warrants vomiting. The CTZ then communicates to other areas of the body to start the domino effect for vomiting.
Before you vomit you may feel nauseous, become pale, have a cold sweat, and have an increased heart rate. Your mouth will also produce extra saliva to protect your teeth from the incoming stomach acid.
As your body prepares to vomit, the major muscles in between the neck and abdomen – the diaphragm, chest wall and the abdominal muscles – all contract at the same time. This puts pressure on the stomach, forcing the contents in the stomach up the throat and through your mouth.
Generally, a few contractions occur before vomiting, causing dry heaving. As the contractions continue, the stomach contents are up, up and away! To protect you from choking, the throat has a flap called the epiglottis which closes to stop any vomit getting into the windpipe and lungs.
Vomiting causes the body to lose fluids that contain salts and minerals called electrolytes. While one vomit alone is not likely to cause adverse reactions, multiple vomits in a short time can quickly lead to dehydration, particularly in babies and children, and an electrolyte imbalance. Electrolytes are vital for your body to perform normal functions like regulating your heartbeat, signaling your nerves, and moving your muscles. When the balance is disturbed, you’ll usually feel miserable until the electrolytes are replaced with fluids.
Prolonged vomiting can also cause damage to the enamel on your teeth because of the strength of stomach acid. Additionally, it can be difficult to replace essential nutrients when you’re continuously vomiting, which can cause malnourishment. Over time, this can lead to your body not functioning properly, lowered immunity and unintended weight loss.
What should I do to look after myself after vomiting?
There are some things you can do to help you feel better after vomiting:
- neutralize any stomach acid left in your mouth – rinse with water or fluoridated mouth wash (don’t brush your teeth as this can damage enamel)
- replace fluids and electrolytes at the first sign of vomiting – mixing oral rehydration solutions in water will help replace the lost electrolytes
- try eating bland foods, like crackers, rice or dry toast
- avoid sugary, alcoholic or caffeinated drinks – these will only make your symptoms worse
When should I seek help for vomiting?
This is a symptom so it’s important to treat the underlying condition that is causing it. For one-off and acute vomiting, the illness will usually resolve itself without medical treatment. If you have other symptoms with your vomiting, it could mean something more serious.
Call Triple Zero (000) if you are vomiting and also have:
- Chest pain
- Severe abdominal pain or cramping
- High fever and stiff neck
- Blurred vision
- Poo in the vomit
- Bleeding from your rectum
- Swallowed something poisonous.
See your doctor if you have:
- Been vomiting for more than two days
- A severe headache
- Green or blood in the vomit
- Stomach pain
- Diabetes, especially if you take insulin.
Babies and children must be monitored closely while they are unwell as their condition can go downhill quickly if dehydration occurs.
If you are concerned about your health or the health of a loved one, call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) to speak with a registered nurse or see your doctor.