What is vomiting?

Vomiting, or throwing up, is a forceful discharge of stomach contents. It can be a one-time event linked to something that doesn’t settle right in the stomach. Recurrent vomiting may be caused by underlying medical conditions.

Frequent vomiting may also lead to dehydration, which can be life-threatening if left untreated.

Vomiting is common. Eating too much food or drinking too much alcohol can make a person throw up. This generally isn’t a cause for concern. Vomiting itself is not a condition. It’s a symptom of other conditions. Some of these conditions include:

Frequent vomiting not related to any of these causes may be a symptom of cyclic vomiting syndrome. This condition is characterized by vomiting for up to 10 days. It is usually coupled with nausea and extreme lack of energy. It mainly occurs during childhood.

According to the Mayo Clinic, cyclic vomiting syndrome usually affects children between the ages of 3 and 7. It occurs in approximately 3 out of every 100,000 children, according to a 2012 study.

This condition can cause vomiting episodes several times throughout the year when left untreated. It can also have serious complications that include:

Vomiting is a common symptom, but it can sometimes require emergency medical attention. You should immediately go to the doctor if you:

  • vomit for more than one day
  • suspect food poisoning
  • have a severe headache accompanied by a stiff neck
  • have severe abdominal pain

You should also seek emergency services if there’s blood in the vomit, which is known as hematemesis. Hematemesis symptoms include:

  • vomiting large amounts of red blood
  • spitting up dark blood
  • coughing up a substance that looks like coffee grounds

Vomiting blood is often caused by:

  • ulcers
  • ruptured blood vessels
  • stomach bleeding

It can also be caused by some forms of cancer. This condition is often accompanied by dizziness. If you vomit blood, call your doctor immediately or go to the nearest emergency department.

Dehydration is the most common complication related to vomiting. Vomiting causes your stomach to expel not only food but fluids, too. Dehydration can cause:

  • dry mouth
  • fatigue
  • dark urine
  • decreased urination
  • headache
  • confusion

Dehydration is especially serious in infants and young children who vomit. Younger children have smaller body mass and thus have less fluid to sustain themselves. Parents whose children show symptoms of dehydration should talk to their family pediatrician immediately.

Malnutrition is another complication of vomiting. Failure to keep down solid foods causes your body to lose nutrients. If you’re experiencing excessive fatigue and weakness related to frequent vomiting, seek medical attention.

Treatment for vomiting addresses the underlying cause.

It’s not necessary for throwing up once in a while. But hydration is important even if you only vomit once. Drinking clear liquids is recommended. Clear liquids containing electrolytes can help provide essential nutrients lost through vomiting.

Solid foods can irritate a sensitive stomach, which increases your chances of throwing up. It may be beneficial to avoid solid foods until clear liquids are tolerated.

Your doctor might prescribe antiemetic drugs for frequent vomiting. These medications help to reduce episodes of throwing up.

Alternative remedies like ingesting products that contain ginger, bergamot, and lemongrass oil may also help. Using alternative remedies may cause drug interactions. Talk to your doctor before starting any alternative remedies.

Dietary changes can also help with frequent vomiting. These are especially helpful for morning sickness. Foods that help to alleviate vomiting include:

  • nongreasy foods
  • saltine crackers
  • ginger products like ginger ale

You can also try eating smaller meals throughout the day.

Treatment plans are the best course of action if your vomiting is caused by a medical condition. Vomiting triggers can vary between people. These may include:

  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • eating too much food
  • migraine
  • exercising after eating
  • stress
  • hot or spicy foods
  • lack of sleep

Adopting healthier lifestyle habits can help prevent vomiting episodes. It’s difficult to entirely avoid viruses that cause vomiting. However, you can reduce your chances of getting a virus by exercising good hygiene, like washing your hands regularly.

Knowing how to treat recurrent vomiting can help you avoid further complications.