Nausea is an uneasiness of the stomach that often comes before vomiting. Vomiting is the forcible voluntary or involuntary emptying (“throwing up”) of stomach contents through the mouth.
What Causes Nausea or Vomiting?
Nausea and vomiting are not diseases, but they are symptoms of many conditions such as:
- Motion sickness or seasickness
- Early stages of pregnancy (nausea occurs in approximately 50%-90% of all pregnancies; vomiting in 25%-55%)
- Medication-induced vomiting
- Intense pain
- Emotional stress (such as fear)
- Gallbladder disease
- Food poisoning
- Infections (such as the “stomach flu”)
- A reaction to certain smells or odors
- Heart attack
- Concussion or brain injury
- Brain tumor
- Some forms of cancer
- Bulimia or other psychological illnesses
- Gastroparesis or slow stomach emptying (a condition that can be seen in people with diabetes)
- Ingestion of toxins or excessive amounts of alcohol
- Bowel obstruction
Is Vomiting Harmful?
Usually, vomiting is harmless, but it can be a sign of a more serious illness. Some examples of serious conditions that may result in nausea or vomiting include concussions, meningitis (infection of the membrane linings of the brain), intestinal blockage, appendicitis, and brain tumors.
When to Call the Doctor About Nausea and Vomiting
Call a doctor about nausea and vomiting:
- If the nausea lasts for more than a few days or if there is a possibility of being pregnant
- If home treatment is not working, dehydration is present, or a known injury has occurred (such as head injury or infection) that may be causing the vomiting
- Adults should consult a doctor if vomiting occurs for more than one day, diarrhea and vomiting last more than 24 hours, or there are signs of dehydration.
- Take an infant or child under six years to the doctor if vomiting lasts more than a few hours, diarrhea is present, signs of dehydration occur, there is a fever, or if the child hasn’t urinated for 4-6 hours.
- Take a child over age six years to the doctor if vomiting lasts one day, diarrhea combined with vomiting lasts for more than 24 hours, there are any signs of dehydration, there is a fever higher than 101 degrees, or the child hasn’t urinated for six hours.
You should seek immediate medical care if any of the following situations occur with vomiting:
- There is blood in the vomit (bright red or “coffee grounds” in appearance)
- Severe headache or stiff neck
- Lethargy, confusion, or a decreased alertness
- Severe abdominal pain
- Rapid breathing or pulse
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