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Vomiting and Nausea

Vomiting and Nausea Overview

Vomiting and nausea are common symptoms that accompany many diseases and conditions. Problems with nausea and vomiting are related to the cause. Nausea and vomiting from motion sickness, seasickness, food poisoning, or cancer therapy can result in loss of water and electrolytes, which can lead to dehydration. Vomiting and nausea known as morning sickness may occur during pregnancy.

  • Nausea is an unpleasant, queasy feeling in the throat or stomach that may result in vomiting.
  • Vomiting is emptying the stomach as a result of strong gagging and retching that leads to throwing up. The stomach's contents are forcefully expelled through the mouth. Vomiting can come in waves as the natural movement (muscle contractions of the digestive system known as peristalses) is reversed, and involuntary contractions in the walls of the stomach and esophagus force the stomach contents out. Sometimes coughing or spitting up mucus from the lungs is confused with vomiting. Vomiting can only come from the stomach.
  • Retching is the reverse movement (peristalsis) of the stomach and esophagus without vomiting. Sometimes this is called the dry heaves.

Vomiting and Nausea 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:

Nausea and vomiting are common side effects of some medications. Usually nausea is not an allergy to a drug (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 to cause 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
  • Alcohol from beer, wine, and liquor is turned into a chemical (acetaldehyde), which results in the sensation of nausea that is felt the next morning, known as a "hangover"
  • Nausea and vomiting occur frequently in pregnancy. Morning sickness usually happens in the first few months but sometimes can last throughout the pregnancy.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/17/2014
Medical Editor:

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome »

Cyclic vomiting syndrome (CVS) is a chronic functional disorder of unknown etiology that is characterized by paroxysmal, recurrent episodes of vomiting and was first described in children by Samuel Gee in 1882.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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