Description of Vomiting

Definition of Vomiting

Vomiting is the expulsion of the contents of stomach through the mouth and can be voluntary or involuntary.

Causes and Risk Factors of Vomiting
Common Causes of vomiting include: 
1. Infections: influenza, pertussis, urinary tract infection, food poisoning
2. Diseases of central nervous system: raised intracranial pressure, migraine
3. Metabolic causes: raised blood urea levels, diabetic ketoacidosis, delayed emptying of stomach (gastroparesis), increased blood calcium.
4. Drugs: levodopa, opiates, antibiotics, digoxin therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy.
5. Excess alcohol intake
6. Pregnancy related morning sickness
7. Sea sickness or motion sickness 
8. Severe pain due to kidney stone, gall stones, appendicitis
9. Injury to brain 
Signs and Symptoms of Vomiting

Vomiting can be an early symptom of other serious medical problems such as appendicitis, blockage of the intestines, cancer or a tumor, ulcers in the lining of the stomach or small intestine etc. Type of vomit can assist in diagnosing various conditions like large volumes of vomit suggest intestinal obstruction; vomit containing feces (feculent vomit) suggests lower intestinal obstruction or presence of fistula in gastrointestinal tract; early morning vomiting can be due to pregnancy, alcohol dependence and some metabolic disorders. 

If there have been just a few bouts of vomiting, investigations are generally not required. If the complaint persist then following routine tests are done:
(a) Lab tests include,
1. Complete blood count with differential counts
2. Blood electrolyte levels- sodium, chloride, potassium
3. Liver function tests
4. Complete urine examination  
(b) Imaging tests:
1. X-ray of the abdomen 
2. CT scan of the abdomen
Treatments of Vomiting

Depending on the cause of vomiting, the treatment may differ. Homecare includes,
Sipping clear fluids
Gradually drinking larger quantities of clear liquids to prevent dehydration
Avoid solid food till the episodes of vomiting have subsided
Oral rehydration solution(ORS) is recommended to prevent chances of dehydration
Vomiting due to morning sickness in pregnant women can be prevented by eating some crackers before getting out of bed or having a high protein snack before sleeping.If vomiting is due to a bacterial infection, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics to clear the infection.

Complications and When Should You See a Doctor 

If vomiting persists, it may lead to following complications:
1. Entering of vomit into wind pipe an individual may choke and die or suffer from pneumonia.
2. Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance
3. Oral health  
4. Mallory- Weiss tear: Erosions in the esophagus or small tears in its mucosa 
5. Continuous vomiting during pregnancy can lead to a serious condition called hyperemesis gravidarum due to which the mother suffers from fluid and mineral imbalance that can endanger her life or of her unborn child.
Seek immediate medical help if:
1. Blood in vomit 
2. Vomit is after a head injury (even if the head injury didn’t seem serious) 
3. Severe headache or stiffness of neck, 
4. Severe abdominal pain, 
5. You cannot keep any fluids down for more than 12 hours or 
6. You have been vomiting longer than 24 hours.
Prognosis and Prevention

Prognosis of vomiting is very good. Once the cause is treated, patients do not complain of it. Vomiting can be prevented by eating well cooked hygienic food. In case of nausea, drinking small amounts of clear, sweetened liquids such as soda or fruit juices can be helpful. However orange juice and grapefruit juice must be avoided , since  these are too acidic. Resting in sitting or in a propped position can also be helpful.
Content Details
Last updated on:
02 Feb 2018 | 11:21 AM (IST)
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Frequently Asked Questions about Vomiting

Yes. Vomiting could be one of the first signs of pregnancy and seen in the very first days of conception. However, based on other associated symptoms it could be due to other conditions as well that should be seen to by a doctor.
Yes. Vomiting may be a sign of cancer, in case of cancer of the stomach or intestines. Other cancers are unlikely to cause vomiting.
Yes. Vomiting blood is a very critical sign and needs urgent medical attention at a hospital. Do not delay visiting a doctor and do not try home remedies.
No. Vomiting is a sign of pregnancy, but continuous vomiting each day throughout pregnancy, preventing healthy weight gain can be very bad for the baby. This needs immediate medical attention.
Yes. Vomiting causes loss of calories and nutrients and can lead to weight loss. There are individuals that indulge in vomiting to purge eaten food to help lose weight. This is serious health problem and is called bulimia.
No. Vomiting can worsen acid reflux problems. Recurrent vomiting can cause further erosion of the mucosal lining of the food pipe leading to intense heartburn during an episode of acid reflux.
No. Vomiting does not reduce fever. Fever and vomiting often accompany each other as part of an underlying digestive tract infection. However, medication needs to be taken to correct both symptoms.
Vomiting is the result of expulsion of the stomach's contents via the mouth. This can be manually done or be a result of some underlying condition where the person has no control over vomiting.
Vomiting causes loss of calories and nutrients from the body. This can lead to weight loss as well nutritional deficiencies.
Vomiting causes loss of nutrients like potassium from the body when stomach contents are vomited out. This can lead to hypokalemia or a drop in potassium and can produce weakness and heart problems if not corrected rapidly.