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:
- Motion sickness or seasickness
- Early stages of pregnancy (nausea occurs in 50%-90% of all pregnancies; vomiting in 25%-55%)
- Medication induced vomiting
- Intense pain
- Emotional stress (fear)
- Gallbladder disease
- Food poisoning
- Infections (such as the "stomach flu")
- A reaction to certain smells or odors
- Heart attack
- Concussion or brain injury
- Brain tumor
- Some forms of cancer
- Bulimia or other psychological illnesses
- Gastroparesis (a condition seen in people with diabetes)
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:
- If the nausea lasts for more than a few days or or if there is a possibility of being pregnant.
- If home treatment is not working, dehydration is present, or a known injury has occurred (such as head injury or infection) that may be causing the vomiting.
- Adults should consult a doctor if vomiting occurs for more than one day, diarrhea and vomiting last more than 24 hours, or there are signs of moderate dehydration.
- Take your infant or child under six years to the doctor if vomiting lasts more than a few hours, diarrhea is present, signs of dehydration occur, there is a fever higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or if the child hasn't urinated for six hours.
- Take your child over age six years to the doctor if vomiting lasts one day, diarrhea combined with vomiting lasts for more than 24 hours, there are signs of dehydration, there is a fever higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit or the child hasn't urinated for six hours.
You should seek immediate medical care if any of the following situations occur with vomiting:
- There is blood in the vomit (bright red or "coffee grounds" in appearance)
- Severe headache or stiff neck
- Lethargy, confusion or a decreased alertness
- Severe abdominal pain
- Fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit
- Rapid breathing or pulse
How is vomiting treated?
Treatment for vomiting (regardless of age or cause) includes:
- Drinking gradually larger amounts of clear liquids
- Avoiding solid food until the vomiting episode has passed
- Temporarily discontinuing all oral medications (which can irritate the stomach and make vomiting worse). But, do not discontinue any medication before checking with your doctor first.
- If vomiting and diarrhea last more than 24 hours, an oral rehydrating solution such as Pedialyte should be used to prevent and treat dehydration.
- Pregnant women experiencing morning sickness can eat some crackers before getting out of bed or eat a high protein snack before going to bed (lean meat or cheese).
- Vomiting associated with cancer treatments can often be treated with another type of drug therapy. There are also prescription and nonprescription drugs that can be used to control vomiting associated with pregnancy, motion sickness and some forms of dizziness. However, consult with your doctor before using these treatments.
How can I prevent nausea?
- Eat small meals throughout the day instead of three large meals
- Eat slowly
- Avoid hard-to-digest foods
- Consume foods that are cold or room temperature to avoid nausea from the smell of hot or warm foods
- Rest after eating with your head elevated about 12 inches above your feet
- Drink liquids between meals instead of during meals and drink at least six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day to prevent dehydration (unless fluid restricted for another medical condition).
- Try to eat when you feel less nauseated
How do I prevent vomiting once I feel nauseated?
- Drink small amounts of clear, sweetened liquids such as soda or fruit juices (except orange and grapefruit juices because these are too acidic).
- Rest either in a sitting position or in a propped lying position. Activity may worsen nausea and may lead to vomiting.
- To treat motion sickness in a car, seat your child so he or she faces the front windshield (watching fast movement out the side windows can make the nausea worse).
- Don't let your kids eat and play at the same time.
Reviewed by the doctors at The Cleveland Department of Gastroenterology.
Reviewed on March 01, 2006 and Edited by Cynthia Dennison Haines, MD, on March 01, 2006.
WebMD Medical Reference
- Stress Urinary Incontinence? Know Your Surgical Options
- Exercise Does Help People With Parkinson's Disease, Review Finds
- Scientists Pinpoint Brain Area Needed for Vision-Guided Walking
- Walking & Talking at Same Time: Aging Brain May Make It Tougher
- Medication Shortage Means Many With Advanced Prostate Cancer Are Missing Treatments
- More Health News »
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Top Nausea and Vomiting Related Articles
AppendectomyAppendectomy is the removal by surgery of the appendix, the small worm-like appendage of the colon (the large bowel). An appendectomy is performed because of probable appendicitis, inflammation of the wall of the appendix generally associated with infection.
Dehydration SlideshowDo you know the signs of dehydration? Dehydration can be mild or life-threatening. Learn causes, symptoms, treatments, and prevention tips to avoid dehydration.
Endometrial AblationEndometrial ablation is a surgical procedure performed to treat abnormal uterine bleeding. Endometrial ablation destroys the lining of the tissues of the uterus. There are several procedures used with endometrial ablation including laser beam, electricity ,freezing, heating, or microwave energy Complications may arise during or after the procedure.
Esophagus PictureThe esophagus is a muscular tube connecting the throat (pharynx) with the stomach. See a picture of the Esophagus and learn more about the health topic.
What Is Gastritis? Symptoms, Treatment, and DietGastritis (acute and chronic) is an inflammation of the lining of the stomach Some people have no gastritis symptoms, but when they do occur they may include bloating, belching, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting. H. pylori infection and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the two main causes of gastritis. Alcohol, caffeine, and high-fat foods also can cause gastritis. Fried, fatty, and spicy foods, and alcohol aggravate gastritis symptoms. Other stomach lining irritants that aggravate symptoms include cigarette smoking, acidic juices, caffeine, tomato products, peppers, and chili powder. Foods that sooth gastritis symptoms, and that help reduce and stop H. pylori infection growth in the stomach include apples, onions, garlic, teas, green leafy vegetables, coconut water, and wheat bran. Gastritis is diagnosed with endoscopy, blood tests, or stool tests. Some people get relief from gastritis symptoms with prescription and non-prescription antacids, histamine blockers like famotidine (Pepcid AC) or ranitidine (Zantac 75), or proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) like omeprazole (Prilosec) and esomeprazole (Nexium). These drugs will not cure gastritis. Complications of gastritis include gastric cancers, MALT lymphoma, renal problems, and death.
Headaches can be divided into two categories: primary headaches and secondary headaches. Migraine headaches, tension headaches, and cluster headaches are considered primary headaches. Secondary headaches are caused by disease. Headache symptoms vary with the headache type. Over-the-counter pain relievers provide short-term relief for most headaches.
CAD SlideshowWhat is heart disease (coronary artery disease)? Learn about the causes of heart disease, arrhythmias and myopathy. Symptoms of heart disease include chest pain and shortness of breath. Explore heart disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.
Heart Disease QuizTake our Heart Disease Quiz to get answers and facts about high cholesterol, atherosclerosis prevention, and the causes, symptoms, treatments, testing, and procedures for medically broken hearts.
Am I Having a Heart Attack? Symptoms of Heart DiseaseHeart attacks symptoms vary greatly for men and women, from anxiety and fatigue to nausea and sweating. Learn the warning signs of a heart attack and know the symptoms that may require an immediate trip to the hospital.
HematomaA hematoma is a collection of blood that is outside a blood vessel. There are different areas where hematomas occur including; inside the skull, on the scalp, ears, septum, bones, finger nails, toenails, and intra-abdominal.
Ovarian Cancer SlidesOvarian cancer symptoms and signs include abdominal pain, bloating, frequent urination, and a feeling of fullness. Ovarian cancer treatment depends on the stage and may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and targeted therapy.
Parathyroidectomy SurgeryParathyroidectomy is the removal of one or more of the parathyroid glands to treat hyperparathyroidism. Risks of parathyroidectomy include:
- paralysis of the vocal cords,
- difficulty swallowing thin liquids,
- difficulty breathing,
- and drug reactions.
- damage to the recurrent laryngeal nerve,
- bleeding or hematoma,
- problems maintaining calcium levels in the blood,
- need for further and more aggressive surgery,
- need for a limited or total thyroidectomy,
- prolonged pain,
- impaired healing,
- and recurrence of the tumor.
High Red Blood Cell Count (Polycythemia)Polycythemia (elevated red blood cell count) is a rare blood disease in which the body produces too many red blood cells. Causes of polycythemia are either primary (acquired or genetic mutations) or secondary (diseases, conditions, high altitude).
Early Pregnancy Symptoms and SignsPregnancy symptoms can vary from woman to woman, and not all women experience the same symptoms. When women do experience pregnancy symptoms they may include symptoms include missed menstrual period, mood changes, headaches, lower back pain, fatigue, nausea, breast tenderness, and heartburn. Signs and symptoms in late pregnancy include leg swelling and shortness of breath. Options for relief of pregnancy symptoms include exercise, diet, and other lifestyle changes.
Tonsillectomy and Adenoidectomy SurgeryTonsillectomy is the surgical removal of both tonsils. A tonsillectomy may be performed in cases of recurrent tonsillitis, or treat sleep apnea and some speech disorders.
Tummy Trouble QuizTummy Troubles? Get a better idea of what's causing the nausea, vomiting, bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, pain, and other gastrointestinal discomforts and problems. Take the Tummy Troubles Quiz!
Urea Breath TestThe urea breath test (UBT) is a test used to diagnose the presence of Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria in the stomach. H. pylori causes, ulcers, inflammation, and atrophy of the stomach. The urea breath test is fairly simple, with few side effects, risks, or complications.