Nausea and vomiting

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Nausea and vomiting

Many disorders trigger nausea and vomiting. Learn how to settle your stomach.

Nausea and vomiting occur in many disorders. Here are some common causes — along with ways to settle your stomach.

Causes are varied

Nausea and vomiting can be triggered by many factors, including:

  • Gastroenteritis. This inflammation of the lining of your stomach and intestines is typically caused by a viral infection or bacteria from contaminated food or water. In addition to nausea and vomiting, you may have watery diarrhea and abdominal cramps.
  • Headache or inner ear disturbance. An intense headache, such as a migraine, can cause nausea and vomiting. An inner ear disturbance, such as motion sickness, also can make you queasy. A rare cause of headache and nausea with vomiting is a brain tumor.
  • Medical treatment. Vomiting is often associated with anti-cancer drugs and radiation therapy.
  • Toxins. High levels of toxins in your blood — including alcohol, nicotine and drugs such as antibiotics — can cause nausea and vomiting.
  • Hormones. The hormonal changes of early pregnancy can make you nauseated and lead to vomiting, as can the surges in hormones that often occur in periods of intense stress. Problems with the thyroid gland — producing either too much thyroid hormone or not enough — also can result in nausea.
  • Diabetes. Diabetes also can cause nausea, especially if it's poorly controlled. If you've had diabetes for a long time, it can lead to a condition of the stomach called gastroparesis, which also can cause nausea and difficulty eating.
  • Peptic ulcers. Peptic ulcers are open sores that develop on the lining of your stomach, upper small intestine or esophagus. The classic symptom is burning pain anywhere from your navel to your breastbone, but peptic ulcers may cause nausea and vomiting as well. Many peptic ulcers are caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori).
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Stomach acid in the lower esophagus also can trigger nausea and regurgitation of food. It can also be associated with vomiting.
  • Gallstones. Gallstones are solid deposits of cholesterol or calcium salts that form in your gallbladder or nearby bile ducts. Sometimes, gallstones cause nausea, vomiting, indigestion and abdominal pain.
  • Pancreatitis. In this condition, digestive enzymes attack your pancreas rather than break down food in your small intestine. Pancreatitis causes mild to severe abdominal pain, often accompanied by nausea, vomiting and fever.
  • Liver disease. If your liver becomes inflamed (hepatitis), which may be related to a virus or medication, you may experience nausea and vomiting. If your liver starts to fail, waste products aren't removed effectively and nausea and vomiting may result.
  • Kidney failure. If your kidneys fail, you lose the ability to filter toxins and this can lead to nausea and vomiting.

Self-care measures

If you're feeling queasy, these suggestions may help:

  • Take it easy. Activity may make nausea worse.
  • Stay hydrated. Suck on ice chips or frozen fruit pops. Take small sips of water, weak tea, clear soft drinks such as ginger ale, noncaffeinated sports drinks or broth. Drinks containing sugar may calm your stomach better than other liquids. However, drinking too much liquid too quickly might worsen nausea and vomiting.
  • Avoid food odors. Don't cook. Avoid restaurants and other places likely to smell like food.
  • Eat bland foods. Start with easily digested foods such as gelatin, crackers and toast. When you can keep these down, try cereal, rice and fruit. Avoid fatty or spicy foods. Wait to eat solid foods until about six hours after the last time you vomited.
  • Use over-the-counter (OTC) motion sickness medicines. If you're planning a trip, OTC motion sickness drugs, such as Dramamine or Bonine, may help calm your queasy stomach. For longer journeys, such as a cruise, ask your doctor about prescription motion sickness patches, such as scopolamine (Transderm Scop).

If your queasiness stems from pregnancy, try nibbling on some crackers before you get out of bed in the morning.

When to see your doctor

Occasional bouts of nausea and vomiting are usually nothing to worry about. Consult your doctor if:

  • The queasiness is accompanied by pain or a severe headache — especially if you haven't had this type of headache before
  • You're unable to drink anything for 12 hours or if your child hasn't been able to keep liquids down for eight hours
  • The vomiting lasts more than two or three days
  • You have abdominal pain in your middle or lower right abdomen along with nausea and vomiting
  • You become dehydrated — you have excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination, and severe weakness, dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Your vomit resembles coffee grounds or contains noticeable blood

Treatment will depend on what's causing your symptoms.

Last Updated: 04/27/2007
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