Home Symptoms Nausea and Vomiting: Causes, Treatment & Complications

Nausea and Vomiting: Causes, Treatment & Complications

Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms associated with many gastrointestinal and nongastrointestinal conditions. They occur together most times.

Nausea is the urge or feeling of wanting to vomit. It is often associated with discomfort, sweating and increased salivation. It is not the same as retching, which is an unproductive attempt to vomit without the actual expulsion of contents of the gastrointestinal tract through the mouth.

Vomiting is the expulsion of contents of the gastrointestinal tract through the mouth. Nausea precedes vomiting in most cases.


Causes of Nausea & Vomiting

The content and character of vomiting can point to the cause of the vomiting. These are also common side effect associated with some medications.


The hormonal changes associated with pregnancy presents with early morning nausea and vomiting. This is commonly seen in the first trimester.

Central Nervous System (CNS) Diseases

Conditions that affect the central nervous system, raise intracranial pressure or cause a disturbance in balance are major causes of nausea and vomiting. Conditions that affect the CNS and present with nausea and vomiting include:

  • benign paroxysmal positional vertigo
  • head injury
  • hydrocephalus
  • intracranial haemorrhage
  • intracranial tumours
  • labyrinthitis
  • Meniere’s disease
  • meningitis
  • migraine
  • motion sickness
  • seizures
  • stroke

Gastrointestinal Diseases

These are some of the most common causes of vomiting. They are conditions that affect the gastrointestinal tract and accessory organs (liver, pancreas, gall bladder). They may present with other symptoms such as fever, diarrhoea, abdominal swelling and constipation. A few examples include:

  • appendicitis
  • cholecystitis
  • dysphagia
  • food poisoning
  • gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • gallstones
  • hepatitis
  • intestinal obstruction
  • pancreatic cancer
  • peptic ulcer
  • pyloric stenosis


Examples of drugs that have nausea and vomiting as a side effect include antibiotics, such as erythromycin (Erythrocin); aspirin; nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve); and some blood pressure drugs, such as the calcium-channel blocker nifedipine (Nifedical, Procardia). Chemotherapeutic agents for the treatment of cancer also cause nausea and vomiting.


Identifying the cause of nausea and vomiting is very important in the treatment. This will help prevent the progression of the disease, especially it is serious and can lead to complications.

Self-treatment involves eating a smaller quantity of food, staying hydrated by drinking a substantial amount of clear fluid, avoiding medications that cause vomiting and replacing lost electrolytes by taking an oral rehydration solution. Over-the-counter medications called antiemetics are also useful in relieving nausea and vomiting.

It is important to seek medical attention when vomiting is associated with severe headache, dehydration, severe abdominal pain, blood-stained or greenish content.


A major complication of vomiting is dehydration, especially in infants and children. This can be prevented by staying hydrated and replenishing lost electrolytes and fluid by taking an oral rehydration solution.


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