What causes vomiting?
Conditions that are known to cause vomiting include infection, poisoning, mental health illnesses, malignancy (cancer), inflammation, trauma, obstruction, and other abnormal processes within the digestive system, nervous system, reproductive system, cardiovascular system, or endocrine system.
Gastrointestinal causes of vomiting
Vomiting may arise from problems in the digestive tract including:
- Acute gastritis
- Food intolerances or allergies
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Intestinal obstruction
- Overeating or eating a high-fat meal
- Peptic ulcer and H. pylori infection
- Perforated bowel
- Viral gastroenteritis
Other causes of vomiting
Vomiting can also be caused by problems in body systems other than the digestive tract including:
Altitude sickness or motion sickness
Brain tumor or brain swelling
Cancer and chemotherapy medications
Cyclic vomiting syndrome
Exposure to smoke or toxic fumes or substances
Medication side effects
Pregnancy and morning sickness
Vertigo and labyrinthitis
Life-threatening causes of vomiting
In some cases, vomiting may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Call your doctor or poison-control hotline immediately or take the person to an emergency care facility if you suspect poisoning or drug ingestion.
Life-threatening causes of vomiting include:
- Bleeding peptic ulcer
- Bowel obstruction
- Brain hemorrhage
- Diabetic ketoacidosis
- Heat exhaustion
- Increased intracranial pressure (high pressure inside the skull, usually from brain swelling)
- Intestinal ischemia (loss of blood supply to the intestines)
- Kidney or liver failure
- Meningitis (infection or inflammation of the sac around the brain and spinal cord)
- Peritonitis (infection or inflammation in the abdominal cavity)
- Severe pain
What are the potential complications of vomiting?
If left untreated, vomiting can lead to serious complications, especially if the vomiting is severe, continues for days, or the underlying disease or condition is untreated or poorly managed. Complications include:
Aspiration of stomach contents into the airway and lungs
Dehydration due to a decreased desire to drink or ability to hold fluids
Mallory-Weiss tear (tear of the lower esophagus resulting in severe bleeding)
Poor nutrition due to a decreased desire to eat
Anemia and shock caused by vomiting of blood
- Kahan S, Miller R, Smith EG (Eds.). In A Page Signs & Symptoms, 2d ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2009.
- Ferri FF. Ferri’s Differential Diagnosis, 2d ed. Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier, 2011.
- Scorza K, Williams A, Phillips JD, Shaw J. Evaluation of nausea and vomiting. Am Fam Physician 2007; 76:76.
What is vomiting?
Vomiting, also known as emesis and throwing up, is the forceful ejection of the stomach’s contents. Vomiting is a common symptom of a wide variety of mild to serious diseases, disorders and conditions. It occurs in all age groups and populations and may or may not occur with nausea.
Depending on the cause, vom... Read more about vomitingintroduction
What other symptoms might occur with vomiting?
Vomiting may occur with other symptoms depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the digestive tract may also involve other body systems.
Digestive symptoms that may occur along with vomitingVomiting may occur with other symptoms affecting the digestive tract including:
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