Vomiting

Overview

Vomiting is perhaps one of the most mundane experience that both children and adults have encountered in their lives.  This condition is usually not severe and generally lasts just for a day or two. Vomiting happens to forcibly excrete a harmful substance or something that irritates the gut or stomach.

The medical term for vomiting is Emesis.  While this is not usually a serious condition and is also not a specific disease or illness, but if it lasts for more than two days and is recurring or persistent, then it would be an excellent time to see a doctor so you can get a proper diagnosis.  This way, you can also get the right treatment.

Vomiting can be caused by several various reasons that include: a type of infection, whether bacterial or viral, foodborne diseases, medical conditions that are associated with the brain or the central nervous system, systemic illnesses, overeating, drinking too much, blocked intestine or motion sickness.

The timing of vomiting may also reveal its cause, such as when it happened right after a meal, possible reasons might be: food poisoning, ulcer, bulimia, or gastritis, which is an inflammation of the stomach lining.  

Emesis is not a specific illness but rather may be a sign of an underlying medical issue or condition such as concussions, stomach flu, or maybe an indication of pregnancy, or could be gastroenteritis, which is an infection of the gut that resulted from a virus or bacteria.

Aside from these possible causes, vomiting may also be a condition that could be brought about by certain illnesses that do not necessarily involve the stomach or the gastrointestinal tract directly.  Some of these illnesses are sepsis, pneumonia, or heart attack. Or can be caused by more severe reasons like appendicitis, some forms of cancer, or disorder in the kidney or the liver.  

If not a symptom of an underlying disease, this situation may also arise as a side effect of some medications.  Cancer chemotherapy, as well as radiation therapy, may also lead to vomiting.

Causes of Vomiting

Whether the reason for vomiting directly involves the stomach or the gastrointestinal tract or not, its causes are certainly varied.  And while it is not a condition by itself, but instead a sign of other states, knowing the right cause for your vomiting would be helpful.

Some possible conditions that lead to vomiting could be:

  • Bowel obstruction
  • Campylobacter
  • Cholecystitis is a medical issue that is associated with the gallbladder.
  • Viral infection
  • Bacterial infection
  • Labyrinthitis or also known as vertigo
  • Emotional stress
  • Emotional shock
  • Intense pain
  • Reaction to certain smells or sounds
  • Indigestion
  • Morning sickness in early pregnancy
  • Headaches
  • Crohn’s disease which is a type of inflammatory bowel disease
  • Ulcer
  • Gastroparesis or slow emptying of the stomach. A condition experienced by those with diabetes.
  • Acute failure of the liver
  • Anaphylaxis which is a severe allergic reaction
  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Anxiety disorders

Some types of medical treatments may also cause vomiting, such as:

  • Chemotherapy for cancer patients
  • Radiation therapy

Other causes may also be:

  • A side effect of some medications
  • Pyloric stenosis
  • Overeating food
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Food poisoning
  • Motion sickness
  • Anesthesia
  • Disorder related to alcohol use

A particular condition called cyclic vomiting syndrome is also considered to be one of the possible causes of vomiting.  This type of severe vomiting occurs in episodes and do not have a clear explanation.

Children also have various reasons for vomiting; some of these are:

  • Milk allergy
  • Viral infection
  • Food poisoning
  • Motion sickness
  • Overeating or for infants, overfeeding
  • Coughing
  • High fever
  • Blocked intestines

Diagnosis and Treatment for Emesis

Although not a generally severe condition, when vomiting persists for more than two days, especially with regards to kids, it is best to see a healthcare provider so that the cause may be identified and adequately treated.

Before the doctor can assign the treatment and medication, he or she will ask first when the vomiting started and when it is in its worst situation. Be prepared to be asked about your eating habits and if something triggers the vomiting.

Aside from taking a careful history of your situation, the doctor will most probably do the following:

  • Perform a physical exam
  • Do some laboratory tests that may include an X-ray to check the stability of the patient
  • Urinalysis to assess the hydration status of the patient

Some common prescriptions are:

  • Ondansetron
  • Metoclopramide
  • Droperidol
  • Prochlorperazine
  • Promethazine
  • Antiemetic drugs to reduce vomiting if it is frequent.

If vomiting is not too serious, these can be some remedies that you can try:

  • Keep yourself well- hydrated even if you only vomited once.  Be sure to drink clear liquids, and those with electrolytes would greatly help so that the lost essential nutrients would be restored.  
  • Temporarily avoid solid foods as it can irritate the stomach
  • Make some dietary changes like try to eat non-greasy foods, ginger products, including ginger ale and saltine crackers.
  • Eat smaller portions of meals during the day
  • Maintain a healthier lifestyle
  • Try some over- the- counter medicines
  • When you can keep liquids down, you may start the BRAT diet, which consists of banana, rice, applesauce, and toast.
  • It would be good to drink water or sports drink like Gatorade
  • Try having popsicles, clear broths, or jellos.

Alternative remedies may also work, but before trying them out, do check out with your doctor first as it may interfere with your prescriptions if you have them.  Some alternative remedies may be:

  • Lemongrass oil
  • Ginger
  • Bergamot

Normal Conditions When Not Vomiting

When someone is not having an episode of vomiting, then it means you are right because:

  • You do not have infections of any type
  • You must be having a healthy lifestyle
  • You do not have a stomach flu
  • You are in pink health, as you most probably do not have any underlying medical issues or concerning the condition.
  • There is no irritation in your stomach, gut, intestines, or gastrointestinal tract.
  • There is no injury in your brain or head

Risks of Having Emesis

Vomiting, though harmless as it seems, should not be left untreated, especially when you think that the symptoms are more severe than what they usually should be.  The first thing to watch out for is dehydration, and this is especially more serious when it comes to young children and infants.

Whether the vomiting happened only once or twice, it is still required that you hydrate yourself to replace the lost nutrients that were expelled when you threw up.  

When Emesis is not addressed right away, it could lead to conditions like dehydration, which can be life-threatening, and the symptoms for these are dry mouth, dark urine, decreased urination, fatigue, confusion, headache, and increased thirst.

For younger children and infants, dehydration can be a more severe concern because since they have a smaller body mass, then it means they have less fluid to sustain themselves as well.  Signs of dehydration for them are rapid breathing or pulse, dry mouth, sunken eyes, decreased urination, and a sunken fontanelle (for infants).

Another risk when vomiting is not treated right away can result in malnutrition.  This can happen when the person is not able to keep down solid foods in the body, therefore, losing nutrients.  Some common signs of malnutrition are weakness and excessive fatigue.

When to Seek Medical Help

Knowing the signs to watch out for is essential so that you have an idea when to seek medical help, and at the same time, avoid having other complications.  

The common symptoms for unusual vomiting may include:

  • Persistent vomiting that has been happening for more than two days
  • Not being able to keep down solid foods for more than one day
  • When you are having signs of severe dehydration
  • Throwing up a green fluid called the bile, and which means that there may be a blockage in your bowel.
  • Sudden and severe abdominal pain
  • Losing a lot of weight since getting sick
  • Having severe chest pain
  • Stiff neck and high fever
  • Sudden and severe headaches
  • If you suspect that you have swallowed something poisonous

Since the condition can be more severe and harmful to kids, it is best to know the signs for them as well.

For children who are younger than six years old:

  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Severe vomiting
  • Fever above 38°C
  • Having signs of dehydration
  • Has not urinated for more than 6 hours
  • Vomiting for 2-3 hours

For children who are more than six years old, signs to watch out for would be:

  • Vomiting for more than 2 hours
  • Showing signs of dehydration
  • Has not urinated within 6 hours
  • Is confused or appears to be lethargic
  • Having a fever that is more than 39°C

Symptoms to check out for adults are the following:

  • Experiencing severe headache
  • Having stiff neck
  • Feeling lethargic
  • Appears to have confusion
  • Vomiting blood whether large amounts of red blood, spitting out dark blood or even just coughing up coffee grounds like substance
  • Having a rapid pulse
  • Having rapid breathing
  • Having a fever of more than 39°C
  • Not being so responsive anymore
  • Having severe or recurrent abdominal pain.

Robert B.

This young and idealistic doctor of Pharmacy has great hopes for the industry. He believes that the cure to cancer and AIDs is within reach with tireless effort and study. He has lived, worked, and studied in Australia and the UK - never settling in one place for too long. He is energetic and passionate when it comes to pharmacy and related subjects. We know because he can talk about it for hours - nonstop!

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