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Digestive health centre

Nausea and vomiting

Vomiting is the body's way of getting rid of stomach contents it feels may be causing harm. Nausea is the queasy feeling a person gets before being sick or throwing up.

Nausea and vomiting are not medical conditions in their own right, but symptoms of something else that's affected a person.

In adults, nausea and vomiting is not usually serious, and gets better in a day or so.

However, if the sickness doesn’t get better, or if you have concerns, seek medical advice.

What causes nausea or vomiting?

Nausea and vomiting can be caused by many conditions and experiences, including:

The causes of vomiting differ according to age. For example, in children vomiting is often due to a viral infection, food poisoning, a milk allergy, motion sickness, overeating or excess feeding, coughing, blocked intestines or illnesses in which the child has a high temperature.

The timing of the nausea or vomiting can indicate the cause. When it happens shortly after a meal, nausea or vomiting may be caused by gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining), an ulcer or bulimia. Nausea or vomiting 1 to 8 hours after a meal may indicate food poisoning. However, certain food-borne bacteria, such as salmonella, can take longer to produce symptoms.

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 concussion, meningitis (infection of the membranes covering the brain), intestinal blockage, appendicitis, and brain tumours.

Another concern is dehydration. Adults have a lower risk of becoming dehydrated because they can usually detect the symptoms of dehydration - such as increased thirst and dry lips or mouth. Children have a greater risk of becoming dehydrated, especially if they also have diarrhoea, because young children are often unable to communicate the symptoms.

Adults caring for sick children need to be aware of these visible signs of dehydration: dry lips and mouth, sunken eyes, and rapid breathing or pulse. In infants, also watch out for reduced urination and a sunken fontanelle - soft spot on top of the baby's head.

Recurrent vomiting in pregnancy can lead to a serious condition called hyperemesis gravidarum, where the mother may develop fluid and mineral imbalances that can endanger her life or that of her unborn child.

WebMD Medical Reference

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