The Cleveland Clinic

Digestive Diseases: Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea is an uneasiness of the stomach that often precedes vomiting. Vomiting is the forcible voluntary or involuntary emptying ("throwing up") of stomach contents through the mouth.

What causes nausea or vomiting?

Nausea and vomiting are not diseases, but they are symptoms of many conditions such as:

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.

Is vomiting harmful?

Usually vomiting is harmless, but it can be a sign of a more serious illness. Some examples of serious conditions that may result in nausea or vomiting include concussions, meningitis (infection of the membrane linings of the brain), intestinal blockage, appendicitis and brain tumors.

Another concern is dehydration. Adults have a lower risk of becoming dehydrated because they can usually detect the symptoms of dehydration (such as increased thirst and dry lips or mouth). But, children have a greater risk of becoming dehydrated, especially if they also have diarrhea, because young children are often unable to communicate symptoms of dehydration. Adults caring for sick children need to be aware of these visible signs of dehydration: dry lips and mouth, sunken eyes and rapid breathing or pulse. In infants, also watch for decreased urination and a sunken fontanelle (soft spot on top of the baby's head).

Recurrent vomiting in pregnancy can lead to a serious condition called hyperemesis gravidarum where the mother may develop fluid and mineral imbalances that can endanger her life or that of her unborn child.

When to call the doctor

Call a doctor:



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