Nausea and Vomiting Treatment
Everyone will experience nausea and vomiting sometime in their lifetime, and these have many causes. Most often, nausea or vomiting is caused by viral gastroenteritis, which is most commonly known as stomach flu. While unpleasant, this viral infection usually runs its course in 24 hours to several days, and medical attention isn’t needed. However, nausea and vomiting treatment may be needed if the cause of the problem is one of many gastrointestinal disorders.
What Are Nausea and Vomiting?
Technically, nausea and vomiting are not considered diseases, but rather symptoms of a gastrointestinal problem. There can be many causes of nausea and vomiting, and medical care and nausea and vomiting treatment will be needed to eradicate the problem.
Nausea and vomiting are different things. Nausea is an uneasy and unpleasant feeling in the stomach that often accompanies the urge to vomit. However, nausea doesn’t always lead to vomiting.
Vomiting is the emptying of the stomach through the mouth by forcible involuntary or voluntary means, and it’s most commonly referred to as “throwing up.” Vomiting triggers can come from several areas of the body, including the stomach and intestines, the inner ear, and the brain.
Nausea and vomiting affect children and adults equally—anyone can experience these symptoms. Those who have an increased risk of nausea and vomiting include pregnant women (commonly referred to as “morning sickness”), and patients that are undergoing cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation. Approximately 50 to 90 percent of pregnant women experience nausea during their pregnancy, while 25 to 55 percent will experience vomiting accompanied by nausea.
Causes of Nausea and Vomiting
There are myriad causes of nausea and vomiting—some serious, but most often it is caused by gastroenteritis, which passes quickly. Some less serious causes of nausea and vomiting may include:
- Intense pain
- Motion sickness or seasickness
- Food poisoning
- Spicy foods
- Early pregnancy
- Undesirable smells or odors
- Gallbladder disease
- Chemical toxin exposure
Less commonly, vomiting can have a more serious cause that requires immediate health care and nausea and vomiting treatment. Some of these causes are:
- Blockage in the intestines
- Brain tumors
Vomiting can also be serious if a patient has signs of dehydration. If vomiting is prolonged, it can be very difficult to stay hydrated, because the contents of the stomach continue to empty. Dehydration is more common and more serious in children, particularly if it is accompanied by diarrhea, because young children may not recognize dehydration symptoms. Adults have a better chance of knowing they’re dehydrated by these symptoms:
- Rapid pulse
- Sunken eyes
- Dry lips and mouth
If you notice these symptoms in children, they require medical care right away. For infants, you should look for a sunken fontanelle (the baby’s “soft spot” on the head) and decreased urination.
Vomiting vs. Regurgitation
It’s easy to confuse vomiting and regurgitation, but they are two different things. Vomiting is the emptying of the stomach, and it is accompanied by abdominal cramping and contractions in the accessory muscles. It is also accompanied by chest pain (as the need to force stomach contents will cause pain in the chest)
Regurgitation, however, is the ejection of the contents of the esophagus. Regurgitation is when food or drink comes back into your mouth, but you don’t necessarily vomit. It can be a symptom of several gastrointestinal disorders, such as acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
When Do I Need Medical Attention for Nausea and Vomiting?
Vomiting, because it is usually caused by stomach flu, should pass within 24 hours. Resting at home is often the best treatment to wait it out. However, not all cases of nausea and vomiting are caused by gastroenteritis. Symptoms of vomiting could indicate a serious underlying condition. You should seek medical attention if:
- Vomiting lasts a week or more
- There is a possibility of pregnancy
- Home remedies and over-the-counter medicines have not treated the vomiting
- You have signs of dehydration
- An injury (such as a head injury) is associated with the vomiting
- There is blood in the vomit (looks like coffee grounds)
- There is severe abdominal pain
- You have a fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
- There is a lack of alertness and confusion
- You have a stiff neck
- There is a severe headache
During your visit, your doctor will ask for your health information so they can give you proper nausea and vomiting treatment, particularly if it’s an underlying cause.
Treatment Options for Nausea and Vomiting
Without consulting a physician, you can try to treat nausea at home by:
- Eating smaller meals (if you can digest food)
- Eating bland foods
- Drinking cold, clear liquids or ginger ale
- Avoiding activity after eating
Vomiting at home should be treated with plenty of rest, as well as:
- Introducing liquids slowly and in small amounts
- Avoiding solid food
- Temporarily stopping oral medication, as it can irritate the stomach
There are other treatment options if your vomiting is severe and you’ve sought medical care. There are anti-nausea medications, such as ondansetron, that can help ease nausea (and may help with vomiting). These medications have very few side effects. A hospital visit may also be required so that the patient can receive liquids intravenously if dehydration is an issue.
If your vomiting is serious, your physician will treat the underlying cause.