Search for Health Information You Need

Common Causes of Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea is a feeling of sickness or discomfort in the abdomen, which is usually accompanied by the urge to vomit. It is often related to a decrease of the normal motility in the stomach and may or may not eventually lead to vomiting. Vomiting can be characterised as the involuntary expulsion of the stomach contents through one’s mouth. People experience occasional episodes of nausea or vomiting for various reasons. Bouts of nausea and vomiting are especially common in infants and children. Although nausea and vomiting typically pass within a day or two, in patients with chronic conditions they may last for a week or longer and cause dehydration and even malnutrition.

Complications Caused by Nausea and Vomiting

When nausea and vomiting are occurring repeatedly, they can cause multiple complications, including:

  • Dehydration can result from prolonged vomiting, particularly then, when it occurs with diarrhea. Children are more prone to dehydration from vomiting than adults.
  • Weight loss and/or malnutrition are a normal result of dehydration associated with severe prolonged vomiting, especially if nausea and vomiting prevent eating.
  • Electrolyte imbalance can be caused by severe vomiting due to loss of electrolytes. Electrolytes are necessary for normal body chemistry and functioning.
  • Dental disease can occur due to stomach acid in vomit damaging teeth and gums. This complication is common in eating disorders, such as bulimia nervosa, where patients often induce vomiting.
  • Bruises or tears in the abdominal wall muscles or in the gastroesophageal junction can be occasionally a result of violent retching.

Symptoms Accompanying Nausea and Vomiting

A number of different symptoms can accompany nausea and vomiting. The type of symptom may provide important clues about the cause of the nausea and vomiting. Commonly occurring symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain may be a symptom of an inflammation or intestinal obstruction in the abdomen caused by pancreatitis.
  • Diarrhea accompanies quite many cases of nausea and vomiting. Diarrhea may signal an infection in the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Fevers, cough, runny nose and body aches may sometimes accompany a sudden onset of nausea and vomiting. These symptoms may indicate an infection in the gastrointestinal system.

The timing of nausea and vomiting is yet another indicator that can provide valuable clues about its cause. If it occurs immediately after a meal, it may signal a peptic ulcer or a mental disorder. If nausea and vomiting occur between one and eight hours after ingesting a meal, they may indicate food poisoning.

Potential Causes of Nausea and Vomiting

Vomiting can be triggered by nausea, which may result from a variety of stimuli such as motions, tastes, smells, overeating, emotions, medications, alcohol abuse, infections and other health conditions. There is an array of different causes of nausea and vomiting. They include:

  • Gastrointestinal disorders. Some of the most common disorders of the stomach and intestines that can cause nausea and vomiting include:
  1. Infectious disease caused by viruses affecting the stomach or intestines. Acute gastrointestinal infections can be also caused by food poisoning, i.e. by eating food that contains harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or toxins.
  2. Pancreatitis is an irritation or inflammation of the pancreas, typically caused by gallstones or excessive alcohol consumption.
  3. Intestinal blockage can be due to peptic ulcers or inflammatory diseases, such as Crohn’s disease (a type of inflammatory bowel disease).
  4. Gastroparesis is a condition common in patients with diabetes, in which food or liquid passes too slowly from the stomach into the small intestine.
  5. Gallstones these hard, crystalline masses, formed from substances in bile such as cholesterol, calcium salts, bile pigments or bilirubin, develop in the gallbladder or bile ducts.
  • Disorders of the central nervous system. Nausea and vomiting are in some instances related to serious conditions of the central nervous system (CNS), including brain tumors and elevated cranial pressure. However, they are more often associated with less serious CNS conditions such as:
  1. Migraine headaches, which are a severe form of headache, involving the nerves, blood vessels and chemicals in the brain.
  2. Motion sickness caused by sudden changes in direction or disorientation.
  3. Meningitis is an infection in the lining in the brain.
  4. Brain injury. Nausea may be a symptom of a concussion caused by a blow to the head.
  • Medications. There is a long list of medications that can cause nausea and vomiting as one of their negative side effects. Perhaps the best known among them are cancer drugs used for chemotherapy. Many antibiotics and pain relievers such as opiates and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may also trigger nausea or vomiting. General anesthesia is also a common reason why people experience nausea or vomiting.
  • Psychiatric conditions. Anxiety and depressive disorders may, among other symptoms, cause nausea or vomiting. Eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa typically involve vomiting when people binge eat and then induce vomiting to purge their stomach.
  • Cyclic vomiting syndrome involves severe, repeated attacks of nausea, vomiting and resulting physical exhaustion that happen suddenly with no apparent cause.
  • Systemic conditions. Certain problems or changes in other body systems, such as pregnancy, heart attack or a kidney failure, may cause nausea or vomiting.