Vomiting is miserable to experience, complete with cold flashes, clammy skin, and churning stomach. What causes vomiting? Is it only a sign of an illness? Is it possible to teach yourself to not throw up? In this article, we'll take a closer look at the causes of vomiting and discuss whether it can, or even if it should, be stopped.
Reasons We Vomit
Contrary to what many people think, your stomach does not tell your body when to vomit. Your brain does. In fact, every action that occurs in our bodies is a result of some type of signal from the brain; vomiting is no different.
There are several reasons a person may vomit. In many cases, it's your body's way of purging a harmful substance. Some of the most common reasons for vomiting include the following.
Food poisoning results from eating food that is contaminated. This may occur when a person who is sick prepares food without using proper hand washing techniques, if food is old/expired, if food is not prepared or cooked properly, or if it was not stored properly after cooking. To rid the body of the bacteria causing food poisoning, the body responds with vomiting.
Most cases of food poisoning resolve within 24-48 hours. However, there may be times when medical attention and/or treatment are needed to completely rid the body of the bacteria.
Nausea and vomiting are some of the first signs of pregnancy. Although it is commonly called "morning sickness," it can actually occur at any time of the day. As much as 80% of pregnant women experience vomiting. Pregnancy-related vomiting during the first trimester is believed to be caused by the rapidly-changing hormone levels in a woman's body. Many doctors consider this to be a sign of healthy placental development.
For most women, vomiting in early pregnancy is not something that should be a major concern. However, if the vomiting becomes severe or you become worried, it's always best to err on the side of caution and visit your OB/GYN.
Gastroenteritis, commonly called the "stomach flu" or "stomach virus," often cause diarrhea and vomiting. It is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection that causes the stomach and intestinal lining to become irritated and inflamed. The body's natural response to harmful or foreign pathogens is to get rid of them. This results in vomiting and diarrhea. One of the major concerns of gastroenteritis is the risk of dehydration. Drinking fluids is encouraged to prevent dehydration and the risks associated with it.
Motion sickness occurs when there is a difference between what a person perceives visually in comparison to the body's sense of movement. The most common types of motion sickness are being carsick, air sick, or seasick. Symptoms include dizziness, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting.
During times of high stress or anxiety, the body's natural defense is to initiate the "fight or flight" response. When this occurs, the area of the brain called the hypothalamus releases hormones that create a sense of awareness that you should either run from danger, or fight because you are in danger. When these hormones – adrenaline and cortisol – are released, some people experience nausea and vomiting.
Should I Learn To Stop Vomiting?
People have different opinions regarding whether learning to stop vomiting is safe or not. There is a difference in learning to stop vomiting and learning measures to control responses which may lead to vomiting.
Measures To Help Control Or Stop Vomiting
Recognizing symptoms that lead to episodes of vomiting may help you control whether it happens or not. There are a few things you can do to relax your body and try to prevent vomiting from occurring.
- Deep Breathing: Take a slow, deep breath through your nose. Your abdomen should expand as you breathe in. Slowly exhale through your mouth. Allow your belly to relax after each breath. Taking controlled, deep breaths is believed to activate the parasympathetic nervous system in the body. This helps control the body's response to anxiety and nausea.
- Eat Crackers: Bland foods, such as dry crackers or toast, help absorb stomach acids, which often cause nausea and vomiting. It's important not to eat too many at once, as your stomach still has to break down the food for digestion. Having a few dry crackers about 10-15 minutes before getting out of bed is one of the most common ways to help alleviate morning sickness in pregnant women.
- Drink More Fluids: One of the risk factors associated with vomiting is dehydration. Therefore, drinking plenty of fluids is important. Sip fluids slowly, so as not to upset your stomach. Also, avoid acidic drinks, such as tomato or orange juices. Ginger ale, peppermint tea, and water are good choices when nauseated. If drinking causes too much distress on your stomach, try eating ice chips slowly.
- Medications To Treat Vomiting: Medications that contain bismuth subsalicylate, such as Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate, may help relieve nausea and vomiting. They coat the stomach lining, which reduces the interaction of acid and the stomach lining, therefore reducing vomiting. These medications can be bought over the counter. Dramamine, which is also an over-the-counter medication, is often used to treat motion sickness.
It's important to note that although some medications can be purchased without a prescription, uncontrolled vomiting should be assessed by a physician. Your doctor will be able to determine if there is an underlying cause of the vomiting and advise you on an appropriate treatment plan.
Knowing When To Seek Help
Vomiting does not always mean that you should see a doctor immediately. However, being aware of changes in your body and knowing when to seek the help of a professional is important. For example, you should see your primary care provider if you
- Vomit for longer than 48 hours (adults) or 24 hours (children)
- Vomiting occurs sporadically for over a month
- You experience weight loss
Emergency medical help should be sought when any of the following accompany vomiting:
- Chest pain
- Severe abdominal pain
- Blurred vision
- Dizziness or fainting
- High fever
- Stiff neck
- Severe headache
There are also situations in which seeking help is necessary, due to the potential presence of an underlying disorder. We'll discuss common ones below.
Believe it or not, there is a medical name for the fear of vomiting, known as emetophobia. Some people have a real fear of vomiting. It's not just the act of vomiting that is frightening to an individual with emetophobia; those who experience this fear often obsess over whether or not they can find a restroom in time, are embarrassed to vomit in front of other people, or fear an inability to stop vomiting. For these individuals, the anticipation of vomiting is often more stressful than act of vomiting.
Treating emetophobia is usually accomplished with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This type of therapy involves correcting faulty beliefs, reducing the need to avoid situations that may cause nausea or vomiting, and confronting challenging situations.
is an eating disorder that can be life-threatening. It is characterized by consuming abnormally large amounts of food in a short period of time followed by purging in an attempt to avoid gaining weight. Methods of purging include the use of laxatives or diuretics, extreme periods of exercising, and forced vomiting.
Bulimia nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening psychological disorder. Therefore, knowing when and where to reach out for help is crucial. The treatment for bulimia is focused on treating the underlying factors, which usually include poor self-esteem and a negative body image. It involves learning to break the cycle of binging and purging, restoring healthy eating habits, identifying, and changing thoughts related to poor self-perception, and resolving any emotional issues that may have led to the disorder.
If you are experiencing vomiting and want to learn to stop or control it, consider talking to your primary care provider. Your doctor can perform a routine physical assessment and obtain a history from you to help determine whether medical intervention is necessary. Furthermore, if your symptoms are related to emotional issues, you may find relief and help by talking with a mental health professional.
Online counseling services, like BetterHelp, have been found to be effective in treating a broad range of both common and uncommon conditions. For example, one study demonstrated how people who used BetterHelp experienced a significant decrease in depression symptom severity after engaging in online therapy.
Online counseling, such as that provided by BetterHelp, offers individual counseling to meet their needs when and where they need it. The online nature of BetterHelp’s therapy also allows it to be cheaper on average than most other forms of therapy, as you don’t need to commute to and from sessions and our therapists don’t have to pay to rent out office space.
Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.
"Orly Katz is an incredible therapist who is clearly very experienced and passionate about what she does. I would highly recommend her to anyone who is seeking help. My first session with her definitely made me feel more optimistic about how therapy can help me see positive change in my life. Thank you, Orly!"
"I've gone through many counsellors in my life but none of them have been able to make a connection with me and get me on the right path. Although, we are in different countries and time zones Grace always replies in a timely manner and always has availability for an appointment. Grace has always made me feel extremely comfortable when it comes to talking about anything, that I can be open and has always made me feel understood. Grace has helped me overcome an eating disorder, helped me while I was in a really terrible work place, help with having difficult conversations with people and has given me so many useful tools that help to calm my anxiety. Grace has been a huge help with my personal development and definitely since signing up to better help I have noticed huge positive improvements in my life."
While most vomiting resolves quickly without the need for intervention, knowing when and where to seek for help is important. No matter what you're experiencing, you can move forward to a truly fulfilling life. All you need are the right tools. Take the first step today.
Is there a way to not throw up?
If you’ve been dealing with severe nausea, you may find yourself wondering if you can avoid throwing up. While there’s no guaranteed way to prevent vomiting, the following may reduce your nausea:
- Avoid activity: Moving around a lot, bending forward, or crunching your stomach can make nausea worse and potentially lead to vomiting. Sitting or laying down with your upper body in a propped position may help.
- Get some fresh air: Cold air can help reduce nausea. According to some scientists, fresh air helps counteract temperature imbalances that occur when you’re nauseous, relieving the urge to vomit and other symptoms (like sweating or hot flashes). Try rolling down the windows in the car, running the air conditioning, sitting outside, using a cold compress, or turning on a fan.
- Adjust your diet: Many people do not want to eat when they’re feeling nauseous, but small meals can provide necessary calories and settle digestive issues. Once you’re ready to start eating again, try eating small meals consisting of:
- Bland foods: Like dry toast, crackers, or broth.
- Cold foods: Such as ice pops, Jell-o, or ice cream.
- BRAT foods: BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. A BRAT diet is commonly recommended when dealing with a bout of nausea.
- Easy carbs: Potatoes, rice, or plain noodles are good options when you feel nauseous. If tolerated, you may want to add broth (such as bone, chicken, or vegetable broth) to increase fluid intake.
Small, frequent meals consisting of bland foods often help people increase fluid and calorie intake when they feel sick.
- Watch out for odors: Certain smells, such as fried foods, fish, and strong perfumes are often poorly tolerated when nauseous. Other scents, like peppermint, cardamom, ginger, and citrus may help settle an upset stomach.
- Sip liquids: Warm ginger or chamomile tea may lessen nausea. You might also try adding some lemon juice or mint leaves to a glass of water. Try to sip small amounts of water frequently, rather than large gulps, to avoid increasing nausea.
- Focus on something else: Reading a book, watching television, or working on a puzzle may help distract you from nausea.
- Consult with a healthcare provider: If you’ve been experiencing nausea for a while, it may be a good idea to speak with your doctor. They can evaluate your symptoms and in some cases they may provide nausea medications to help you manage your symptoms.
Though these strategies may provide relief when you feel sick, they do not always. Vomiting is unpleasant, but it’s generally not serious. Mayo Clinic provides the following signs and symptoms guidance sheet, which may help you decide if your symptoms warrant emergency care or a doctor’s appointment.
What should I do if I throw up?
One of the primary concerns with vomiting is dehydration. Wait a few hours after vomiting, and then slowly start to rehydrate with small sips of water or suck on ice chips. After three or four hours, you may want to switch to drinking clear broths, electrolyte drinks, flat ginger ale, or popsicles. Once you feel well enough to eat food, prioritize small, bland meals.
What distracts you from nausea?
Here are some ways that people distract themselves from nausea:
- Reading a book
- Watching the television
- Playing a video game or board game
- Solving a crossword puzzle
- Listening to a podcast, audiobook, or soothing music
- Sucking on ice cubes
- Talking with friends or family
- Deep breathing exercises
- Massaging your temples
- Sipping ginger, lemon, mint, or chamomile tea
- Gently stretching
- Doing light housework
These strategies may provide a welcome distraction from nausea. Remember to listen to your body and not overdo it if an activity makes your symptoms worse. In some cases, such as nausea resulting from a concussion, you should avoid using your brain as much as possible.
How long does vomiting last?
On average, acute vomiting in adults tends to subside within 24 to 48 hours. If you experience severe vomiting that continues for more than four hours, or if non-continuous vomiting persists for more than a day, you may want to seek medical care.
Should you lay down after throwing up?
After throwing up, it’s a good idea to sit propped up (without your stomach crunched), with your head elevated at least a foot above your feet. After an hour or so, you may want to lay down with your head resting in a propped position, but avoid laying in a fully flat position. A fully flat position can cause stomach juices to rise, contributing to nausea, and laying flat on your back can increase the risk of aspiration (inhaling) vomit should you get sick again.
What is the 24 hour rule after vomiting?
The 24 hour rule is often used to gauge when children can go back to school or daycare after an illness. According to this rule, you should keep your child home until:
- It’s been at least 24 hours since their fever was above 100.0 without the use of fever reducing medications.
- It’s been at least 24 hours since the last time they had diarrhea or vomited.
- It’s been 24 hours since their first dose of antibiotics (if prescribed).
- Persistent coughing is well-controlled or has gone away for at least 24 hours.
Why won't I stop throwing up?
Vomiting can be very unpleasant, but it usually resolves on its own within a day or two. Home care, including sitting in a comfortable position, sipping fluids, avoiding odors, and eating bland foods once tolerated should help you manage your symptoms.
However, if you are concerned about your symptoms or they do not get better on their own, you may want to seek medical care. In some cases, vomiting may be due to underlying causes that are more serious than gastroenteritis. Watch for the following warning signs, like neck stiffness, a high fever, and vomit that looks like coffee grinds.
Is throwing up for 2 hours bad?
Vomiting is a common way that the body gets rid of harmful substances or responds to gastrointestinal irritants. Typically, symptoms will lessen within 24 to 48 hours. Watch for the following signs, which may indicate that you should seek medical attention:
- Intense pain or cramping in the abdomen
- Vomit that looks like coffee grounds, which may indicate blood in stomach contents or duodenum
- Severe chest pain
- Vomit is yellow or green
- Rapid weight loss
- Vomiting continues for more than 48 hours (in adults)
- High fever with neck stiffness
- A severe, sudden headache
- Dark urine or infrequent urination
- Sunken eyes
- Weakness or numbness
- Shortness of breath
If you are concerned about your symptoms, it’s a good idea to check in with a medical professional.
Note that vomiting episodes can lead to dehydration much more quickly in children than it does in adults. Additionally, elderly people and people with serious underlying health conditions may be at a higher risk of complications from dehydration. In general, if uncontrollable vomiting persists to the point that you cannot keep fluids down, it’s a good idea to seek immediate medical attention.
How many hours of puking is too much?
Four hours or more of intense or continuous vomiting may indicate a medical emergency, such as an intestinal blockage. If vomiting is not continuous, 48 hours is generally considered the amount of time an adult can wait before seeking professional medical care. However, it’s a good idea to be aware of vomiting red flags, such as:
- Vomiting blood or bile (vomit may look like coffee grounds or appear yellow or green in color)
- Severe stomach pain
- High fever, light sensitivity, and neck stiffness
- Weakness, dizziness, lethargy, confusion, or loss of consciousness
- Dark urine, not passing urine in a five-hour period, dry mouth, sunken eyes, or rapid heartbeat
- Vomiting that worsens or continues after 48 hours
- Continuous, intense vomiting that last for four or more hours
- Multiple episodes of vomiting when you have diabetes, especially if you take insulin (vomiting can alter your blood sugar level)
What is the main cause of vomiting?
Vomiting may be caused by:
- Pathogens: Gastroenteritis (the “stomach flu,” which is often caused by norovirus or rotavirus) and food poisoning are among the most common causes of vomiting.
- Medical conditions: Pregnancy, vertigo, and migraines can cause vomiting.
- Motion sickness: More common in children than adults, motion sickness often occurs when driving in the car or boating in choppy waters.
- Medications: Some medications, like chemotherapy drugs, can lead to nausea and vomiting.
- Overconsumption of substances: Alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine can all cause nausea and vomiting when used in excess.
- Appendicitis: Appendicitis refers to inflammation of the appendix. Nausea, vomiting, a high fever, diarrhea, pain in the lower right side of the abdomen, and loss of appetite are key symptoms of this serious medical condition.
- Blockage: Intestinal obstruction is an uncommon cause of severe vomiting. It occurs when there’s a blockage in the intestines that causes food and fluid to move back up to the stomach.
- Inflammation in the brain: Meningitis, brain tumors, head injuries, and encephalitis can cause swelling in the brain, which may lead to vomiting.
Vomiting is frequently caused by gastroenteritis or food poisoning, however, nausea and vomiting are also common for people with certain medical conditions or those taking some medications.
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