(Also Called ‘Upset Stomach – Nausea’, ‘Vomiting’)
Nausea and vomiting are not diseases, but rather are symptoms of many different conditions, such as infection (“stomach flu”), food poisoning, motion sickness, overeating, blocked intestine, illness, concussion or brain injury, appendicitis, and migraines. Nausea and vomiting can sometimes be symptoms of more serious diseases such as heart attacks, kidney or liver disorders, central nervous system disorders, brain tumors, and some forms of cancer.
What is the difference between nausea and vomiting?
Nausea is an uneasiness of the stomach that often accompanies the urge to vomit, but doesn’t always lead to vomiting. Vomiting is the forcible voluntary or involuntary emptying (“throwing up”) of stomach contents through the mouth. Some triggers that may result in vomiting can come from the stomach and intestines (infection, injury, and food irritation), the inner ear (dizziness and motion sickness), and the brain (head injury, brain infections, tumors, and migraine headaches).
Who is more likely to experience nausea and vomiting?
Nausea and vomiting can occur in both children and adults. People who are undergoing cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy, have an increased risk of nausea and vomiting. Pregnant women in their first trimester may also experience nausea and vomiting, commonly referred to as “morning sickness.” It is estimated that 50 to 90 percent of pregnant women experience nausea, while 25 to 55 percent experience vomiting.
Nausea and Vomiting Causes
Nausea and vomiting are controlled by the same parts of the brain that control involuntary bodily functions. Vomiting is actually a reflex triggered by a signal from the brain. The signal to vomit can result from several stimuli such as smells, taste, various illnesses, emotions (such as fear), pain, injury, infection, food irritation, dizziness, motion, and other changes in the body, specifically these:
- Eating disorders (anorexia and bulimia)
- Food poisoning
- Certain virus infections
- Motion sickness (car sickness, seasickness)
- Vertigo (the sensation that the room is spinning around)
- Head injuries (such as a concussion or bleeding injury)
- Gallbladder disease or appendicitis
- Migraine (a severe form of headache)
- Brain tumors
- Brain infections (such as meningitis)
- Hydrocephalus (too much fluid in the brain)
Nausea and vomiting are common side effects of some medications. Usually nausea is not an allergy (which is a severe reaction that can include skin rash or trouble breathing), but an unwanted side effect of the medicine. Some medicines such as those used in cancer treatment (chemotherapy) and strong pain killers are well known for causing nausea and vomiting.
The following are common causes of nausea and vomiting.
- Side effects of anesthesia used for surgery
- Stomach problems such as blockage (pyloric obstruction, a condition that causes forceful spitting up in infants)
- Bleeding into the stomach from different causes
- Infection, irritation, or blockage of the intestines
- Low or high body chemicals and minerals
- Presence of toxins in the body
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Nausea and vomiting occur frequently in pregnancy. Morning sickness usually happens in the first few months but sometimes can last throughout the pregnancy.
Nausea and Vomiting Remedies
Self-Care at Home
The mainstay of home nausea remedies is to drink fluids. Fluid intake helps correct electrolyte imbalance, which may stop the vomiting. Drinking fluids prevents dehydration, which is the main side effect of excessive vomiting.
Begin with small amounts, such as 4-8 ounces at a time for adults and 1 ounce or less at a time for children. Drink only clear liquids (such as clear soup broth, juice, lemon-lime).
Avoid milk and any dairy products, which can worsen nausea and vomiting.
After 24 hours of tolerating fluids, work your way up to soft foods, gelatin, oatmeal, yogurt, and similar soft foods. If vomiting and nausea return, switch back to liquids only.
Peppermint oil is reported to relax the muscles in the gastrointestinal tract, and may be a natural cure to help relieve symptoms of nausea and vomiting. It can be used as a tea, in capsules, or inhaled as aromatherapy.
NOTE: If you choose to use remedies involving homeopathy, herbs, dietary and nutritional supplements, aromatherapy, and other alternative or complementary healing methods, be advised that these products and techniques have usually not been scientifically proven to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease. Serious interactions with prescription and nonprescription medications are always a possibility. Keep your doctor informed about every medication or medicine-like substance you use and seek medical advice for your health concerns before taking any medication or remedy.
Dehydration in children: Children should be given oral rehydration solutions such as Pedialyte, Rehydrate, Resol, and Rice-Lyte.
Water, soda, tea, and fruit juice will not correctly replace fluid or electrolytes lost with the vomiting. Moreover, water may dilute electrolytes to the point where the patient suffers seizures.
In underdeveloped nations or regions without available commercial pediatric drinks, the World Health Organization has established a field recipe for fluid rehydration: Mix 2 tablespoons of sugar (or honey) with ¼ teaspoon of table salt and ¼ teaspoon of baking soda. (Baking soda may be substituted with ¼ teaspoon of table salt.) Mix in 1 liter (1 qt) of clean or previously boiled water.
Dehydration in adults: Although adults and adolescents have a larger electrolyte reserve than children, electrolyte imbalance and dehydration may still occur as fluid is lost through vomiting. Symptoms may occur in healthy people.
Initially, adults should eat ice chips and clear, noncaffeinated, non-dairy liquids such as sports drinks, ginger ale, fruit juices, and Kool-Aid or other commercial drink mixes.
After 24 hours of fluid diet without vomiting, begin a soft-bland solid diet such as the BRAT diet: bananas, rice, applesauce without sugar, toast, pasta, and potatoes.