Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea is the sensation of being about to vomit. Vomiting, or emesis, is the expelling of undigested food through the mouth.
Nausea is a reaction to a number of causes that include overeating, infection, or irritation of the throat or stomach lining. Persistent or recurrent nausea and vomiting should be checked by a doctor.
A doctor should be called if nausea and vomiting occur:
- after eating rich or spoiled food or taking a new medication
- repeatedly or for 48 hours or longer
- following intense dizziness
It is important to see a doctor if nausea and vomiting are accompanied by:
- yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
- pain in the chest or lower abdomen
- trouble with swallowing or urination
- dehydration or extreme thirst
- drowsiness or confusion
- constant, severe abdominal pain
- a fruity breath odor
A doctor should be notified if vomiting is heavy and/or bloody, if the vomitus looks like feces, or if the patient has been unable to keep food down for 24 hours.
An ambulance or emergency response number should be called immediately if:
- Diabetic shock is suspected
- Nausea and vomiting continue after other symptoms of viral infection have subsided
- The patient has a severe headache
- The patient is sweating and having chest pain and trouble breathing
- The patient is known or suspected to have swallowed a drug overdose or poisonous substance
- The patient has a high body temperature, muscle cramps, and other signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke
- Nausea, vomiting, and breathing problems occur after exposure to a known allergen
Causes and symptoms
Persistent, unexplained, or recurring nausea and vomiting can be symptoms of a variety of serious illnesses. It can be caused by simply overeating or drinking too much alcohol. It can be due to stress
, certain medications, or illness. For example, people who are given morphine or other opioid medications for pain relief after surgery sometimes feel nauseated by the drug. Such poisonous substances as arsenic and other heavy metals cause nausea and vomiting. Morning sickness is a consequence of pregnancy-related hormone changes. Motion sickness
can be induced by traveling in a vehicle, plane, or on a boat. Many patients experience nausea after eating spoiled food or foods to which they are allergic. Patients who suffer migraine headache often experience nausea. Cancer
patients on chemotherapy
are nauseated. Gallstones
, gastroenteritis and stomach ulcer may cause nausea and vomiting. These symptoms should be evaluated by a physician.
Nausea and vomiting may also be psychological in origin. Some people vomit under such conditions of emotional stress as family arguments, academic tests, airplane travel, losing a job, and similar high-stress situations. In addition, some eating disorders are characterized by self-induced vomiting.
Diagnosis is based on the severity, frequency, and duration of symptoms, and other factors that could indicate the presence of a serious illness.
Diagnosis is based on the taking of a careful patient history. In some cases, the doctor may order laboratory tests or imaging studies to determine the presence of drugs or poisonous substances in the patient's blood or urine, or evidence of head injuries or abnormalities in the digestive tract. If the nausea and vomiting appear to be related to anxiety
, stress, or an eating disorder, the doctor may refer the patient to a psychiatrist for further evaluation.
Getting a breath of fresh air or getting away from whatever is causing the nausea can solve the problem. Eating olives or crackers or sucking on a lemon can calm the stomach by absorbing acid and excess fluid. Coke syrup is another proven remedy.
Vomiting relieves nausea right away but can cause dehydration. Sipping clear juices, weak tea, and some sports drinks help replace lost fluid and minerals without irritating the stomach. Food should be reintroduced gradually, beginning with small amounts of dry, bland food like crackers and toast.
Medications that are given to relieve nausea and vomiting are called antiemetics. Meclizine (Bonine), a medication for motion sickness, also diminishes the feeling of queasiness in the stomach. Dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), another motion-sickness drug, is not effective on other types of nausea and may cause drowsiness.
Newer drugs that have been developed to treat postoperative or postchemotherapy nausea and vomiting include ondansetron (Zofran) and granisetron (Kytril). Another treatment that has been found to lower the risk of nausea after surgery is intravenous administration of supplemental fluid before the operation.
Advocates of alternative treatments suggest biofeedback, acupressure and the use of herbs to calm the stomach. Biofeedback uses exercise
and deep relaxation to control nausea. Acupressure (applying pressure to specific areas of the body) can be applied by wearing a special wristband or by applying firm pressure to:
- the back of the jawbone
- the webbing between the thumb and index finger
- the top of the foot
- the inside of the wrist
- the base of the rib cage
is another alternative treatment found to be effective in relieving nausea. A few people, however, experience nausea as a side effect of acupuncture.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) or lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) tea may relieve symptoms. Ginger (Zingiber officinale), another natural remedy, can be drunk as tea or taken as candy or powered capsules.
, yoga, and other relaxation techniques can help prevent stress-induced nausea. Anti-nausea medication taken before traveling can prevent motion sickness. Sitting in the front seat,
These illustrations depict the mechanism and causes of vomiting in the human body. An impulse from the brain stimulates the vomiting center (top center) in the brain stem. Nerve impulses sent to the stomach, diaphragm, and abdominal wall (bottom center) result in stomach's contents being expelled. Other causes of vomiting include raised pressure in the skull due to injury or tumor (upper right), and hormonal changes during pregnancy.
(Illustration by John Bavosi, Custom Medical Stock Photo. Reproduced by permission.)
focusing on the horizon, and traveling after dark can also minimize symptoms.
Food should be fresh, properly prepared, and eaten slowly. Overeating, tight-fitting clothes, and strenuous activity immediately after a meal should be avoided.
Vomiting related to emotional upsets may be avoided by forms of psychotherapy that teach patients to manage stress in healthier ways.
— A treatment technique associated with traditional Chinese medicine, in which thin needles are inserted into specific points located along energy channels in the human body known as meridians.
— A preparation or medication that relieves nausea and vomiting. Coke syrup, ginger, and motion sickness medications are examples of antiemetics.
— Loss of fluid and minerals following vomiting, prolonged diarrhea, or excessive sweating.
— Reduced level of consciousness that requires immediate medical attention.
— The medical term for vomiting.
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th ed., revised. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2000.
Beers, Mark H., MD, and Robert Berkow, MD., editors. "Functional Vomiting." Section 3, Chapter 21 In The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories, 2002.
Pelletier, Dr. Kenneth R. The Best Alternative Medicine, Part I: Western Herbal Medicine. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002.
Ali, S. Z., A. Taguchi, B. Holtmann, and A. Kurz. "Effect of Supplemental Pre-Operative Fluid on Postoperative Nausea and Vomiting." Anaesthesia 58 (August 2003): 780-784.
Cepeda, M. S., J. T. Farrar, M. Baumgarten, et al. "Side Effects of Opioids During Short-Term Administration: Effect of Age, Gender, and Race." Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics 74 (August 2003): 102-112.
Chung, A., L. Bui, and E. Mills. "Adverse Effects of Acupuncture. Which Are Clinically Significant?" Canadian Family Physician 49 (August 2003): 985-989.
O'Brien, C. M., G. Titley, and P. Whitehurst. "A Comparison of Cyclizine, Ondansetron and Placebo as Prophylaxis Against Postoperative Nausea and Vomiting in Children." Anaesthesia 58 (July 2003): 707-711.
Quinla, J. D., and D. A. Hill. "Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy." American Family Physician 68 (July 1, 2003): 121-128.
Ratnaike, R. N. "Acute and Chronic Arsenic Toxicity." Postgraduate Medical Journal 79 (July 2003): 391-396.
Tan, M. "Granisetron: New Insights Into Its Use for the Treatment of Chemotherapy-Induced Nausea and Vomiting." Expert Opinion in Pharmacotherapy 4 (September 2003): 1563-1571.
Tiwari, A., S. Chan, A. Wong, et al. "Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in Hong Kong: Patients' Experiences." Nursing Outlook 51 (September-October 2003): 212-219.
Walling, Anne D. "Ginger Relieves Nausea and Vomiting During Pregnancy." American Family Physician 64 (November 15, 2001): 1745.
American Gastroenterological Association (AGA). 7910 Woodmont Ave., 7th Floor, Bethesda, MD 20814. (310) 654-2055. http://www.gastro.org/index.html. firstname.lastname@example.org.