Vomiting is the body’s way of expelling harmful substances. It is not necessarily a sign of a serious problem, and it usually only lasts a day or two.
There are many potential causes of vomiting. Some common causes are food poisoning, morning sickness in pregnancy, motion sickness, and gastroenteritis.
However, vomiting is sometimes a symptom of more serious problems.
It could indicate an issue, such as appendicitis, which requires medical attention. If an individual is vomiting for more than 24 hours, has blood in their vomit, or thinks they may have ingested poison, they should contact a doctor.
Read more to learn about the causes of vomiting, how to treat it, how to prevent it, and more.
There are a variety of potential common causes of vomiting, which include the below.
Symptoms of gastroenteritis include vomiting, diarrhea, headache, fever, and stomach pain.
For many people, nausea and vomiting is an early sign of pregnancy. It usually resolves on its own.
Motion sickness makes people feel nauseous and dizzy as they travel. It can also cause vomiting.
In particular, it commonly affects children and pregnant individuals. It occurs when sensory signals from the inner ears, eyes, and muscles do not match. However, people usually feel better once the journey is over.
A person may vomit because their intestines become obstructed. This obstruction blocks food and liquids from passing through the digestive system, and vomiting occurs when food or fluid backs up in the stomach.
Appendicitis is a condition where the appendix acquires an infection and becomes inflamed. It usually causes severe pain in the lower right-hand side of the abdomen.
In addition to pain, it can also cause nausea, vomiting, fever, diarrhea, or constipation. People with appendicitis symptoms need to seek medical attention.
Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed, which usually causes a sudden onset of pain in the upper mid-left abdomen, below the breastbone.
Individuals may also have nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, fever, and rapid pulse. Those with pancreatitis symptoms need to seek medical help.
Brain and central nervous system disorders
Some disorders of the brain or central nervous system activate the vomiting center of the brain.
These include infections, such as meningitis or encephalitis and migraine headaches. Conditions that cause elevated pressure inside the skull, including head injuries, brain hemorrhages, and tumors, can also cause vomiting.
Ingesting toxins or drugs
Ingesting toxins, such as those in lead and certain plants and food, can cause severe nausea and vomiting.
Various drugs can cause vomiting,
- chemotherapy drugs
- opioids, such as morphine
- cannabis (marijuana)
People who have, or think they may have, ingested a toxin or chemical should seek medical attention.
Cyclic vomiting syndrome
Cyclic vomiting syndrome is a rare disorder that can cause people to vomit at varying intervals. This condition usually begins during childhood and can persist into adulthood.
Adults who develop cyclic vomiting syndrome may develop the disorder due to chronic marijuana use.
There are a variety of medications to treat vomiting — doctors often refer to them as antiemetics.
Some antiemetics work by blocking signals from reaching the vomiting center of the brain, while others speed up the movement of food through the gut.
Some common medications for vomiting include the below.
These include prochlorperazine, haloperidol, chlorpromazine, perphenazine, promethazine, and levomepromazine. They work by blocking activity in a chemical in the brain called dopamine.
They may be effective against vomiting due to some cancers and cancer treatments. People can also use them to treat nausea that opiate medications may induce.
Some antihistamine medications include promethazine, cyclizine, and cinnarizine. Experts believe they work by blocking receptors for histamine in the area of the brain that causes nausea and vomiting. People use these medications to treat vomiting from various causes.
This medicine works by blocking the activity of a chemical in the brain called acetylcholine. People often use it to treat nausea due to motion sickness or inner ear problems.
Some serotonin-blocking medications include palonosetron, granisetron, and ondansetron. These medications block serotonin activity in the brain and gut, which could cause nausea and vomiting.
Individuals experiencing vomiting due to chemotherapy may use these medications.
This medicine works directly on the gut. It reduces feelings by stimulating gastrointestinal movement, helping the stomach empty itself, and moving food through the gut more quickly. It also blocks dopamine receptors in the brain.
People often use this medication if they are vomiting due to slow gut problems or migraine.
Besides taking medication to treat vomiting, a person can try:
- relaxation techniques
- acupuncture or acupressure
drinking ginger tea
- eating bland crackers
Individuals could prevent vomiting by practicing good hygiene, especially around food.
This can help prevent people from accidentally consuming bacteria that may cause vomiting. To ensure food is safe to eat, a person can:
- wash countertops, knives, and cutlery they use to prepare food
- wash hands often
- rinse fruits and vegetables
- store food at the correct temperature
- use a meat thermometer
- use different cutting boards for meat and vegetables
- cook meat, poultry, and fish correctly and thoroughly
If a person feels nauseous, they can take action to prevent it from worsening. Some preventative measures include:
- eating plain crackers as soon as they wake up
- eating smaller meals throughout the day, instead of three large meals
- avoiding spicy foods
- drinking small sips of clear liquids such as water or broth
- avoiding acidic juices
- trying over-the-counter vomiting relief medication
Vomiting usually goes away on its own in a day or two. However, this could last longer if there is an underlying condition causing the vomiting.
Persistent vomiting can cause various complications, including:
Although it is likely to go away on its own, vomiting could suggest a serious problem requiring medical attention.
Individuals should contact a doctor if:
- they cannot keep fluids down
- they experience frequent bouts of vomiting
- their vomit is green, which could suggest a blockage in their bowel
- they have been vomiting for longer than 2 days
- they have lost a significant amount of weight since becoming ill
- they have signs of severe dehydration, such as a rapid heart rate and passing little to no urine
A person should seek immediate emergency attention if they have ingested anything toxic or poisonous. People also need urgent medical care for vomiting if they experience:
- severe chest pain while vomiting
- a sudden severe headache
- a high temperature and a stiff neck
- severe, sudden abdominal pain
- blood, or what appears to be coffee grounds, in their vomit
A person may experience vomiting for a variety of reasons. Some common causes include infections or irritations in the gut, ingestion of toxins, motion sickness, and morning sickness during pregnancy.
There are a variety of medications to treat vomiting — some block signals to the vomiting center of the brain, while others work on emptying the gut to ease symptoms. Relaxation techniques and dietary changes can also improve symptoms.
A person should contact a doctor or emergency services if their vomiting is severe. This includes if their vomit is green, has blood in it, is frequent, and if they have severe pain in the chest, head, or abdomen.