Acute Nausea And Vomiting

What is acute nausea and vomiting?

Acute nausea and vomiting starts suddenly, gets worse quickly, and lasts a short time. Nausea and vomiting most often occur together, although they can occur alone.

What causes acute nausea and vomiting?

Food poisoning, viral gastroenteritis, and certain medicines are the most common causes of nausea and vomiting. Viral gastroenteritis is an infection of the stomach and intestines caused by a virus. Other common causes of nausea and vomiting:

  • Large amounts of alcohol

  • Too much medicine or stopping a regular medicine too quickly

  • Early stages of pregnancy

  • Liver or pancreas inflammation (swelling)

  • Infection in the stomach, intestines, or other organs in the abdomen

  • Trauma to the head

  • Anxiety

  • Gastroparesis (a condition where your stomach does not empty properly)

  • Metabolic disorders, such as uremia or adrenal insufficiency

What causes acute nausea and vomiting with stomach pain?

  • Inflammation of the appendix, gallbladder, stomach, pancreas, kidneys, or other organs

  • Gallstones

  • Bacteria or a parasite (very small living creature) in the digestive system

  • Heart attack

  • Stomach ulcers

  • Bowel blockage or twisting

  • Injuries

What causes acute nausea and vomiting with other signs and symptoms?

You may be sweating and have pale skin, problems with digestion, and more saliva than usual. These signs and symptoms may be caused by the following:

  • Problems in the autonomic nervous system, which controls body functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, and stomach fluid

  • Increased pressure or bleeding in the brain

  • Swelling of the tissue covering the brain

  • Migraine or seizures

  • Inner ear disorders, which cause problems with balance

How can I tell caregivers about my nausea and vomiting?

Tell caregivers when you last had nausea and vomiting and how long it continued. Tell caregivers if it happened before, during, or after a meal. Tell them what and how much you ate. Tell your caregiver about other signs and symptoms that appear with your nausea and vomiting and if you have recently lost weight. Tell your caregiver if you have had gallstones or stomach surgery in the past. Tell your caregiver how much you vomited and if it came out very fast and forceful. Caregivers also need to know if the vomit smelled like stool, had blood in it or was bright yellow, or if there were pieces of food in it.

What signs and symptoms may be related to acute nausea and vomiting?

Most people have a fever and lose weight. Other common signs and symptoms include:

  • Abdominal distention (swelling)

  • Pain, tenderness, or a lump in the abdomen

  • Splashing sounds heard with stomach movement
Other signs and symptoms may include:
  • Headache or confusion

  • Increased eye pressure and swelling, or problems with your eyesight

  • Diarrhea or blood in your bowel movements

  • Muscle pain, neck stiffness, or uncontrolled movements

  • Fast and unusual eye movements

  • Slow heartbeat or dizziness

  • Vertigo (inner ear problem causing dizziness) or hearing loss

  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes

How may acute nausea and vomiting be treated?

The first goal of treatment for nausea and vomiting is to raise the level of your body fluids back to normal. Treatment also depends on the cause of the nausea and vomiting. If there is a medical condition causing your nausea and vomiting, it will also be treated. Treatment is also aimed at stopping or preventing your signs and symptoms. You may need one or more of the following treatments:

  • Medicines:

    • Antianxiety medicines: This medicine may be given to help you feel more relaxed. This may also be used if motion sickness medicine does not stop your nausea and vomiting.

    • Antiemetics: This medicine may be given to calm your stomach and stop your vomiting. It is also given to stop you from vomiting after surgery or after taking cancer medicine.

    • Motion sickness medicine: This medicine is used to stop nausea and vomiting caused by motion sickness.

    • Gastrointestinal stimulants: This medicine is used to help empty your stomach and bowels, which helps decrease your nausea and vomiting.

  • Treatments and procedures: People with severe vomiting may need surgery or treatments other than medicines. You may need one or more of the following:

    • Gastric pacing: Gastric pacing is used when your stomach or intestines stop working. Special wires are placed inside your stomach. Electrical stimulation using the wires causes your stomach and intestines to work as they should. The device is used just before meals and is continued for hours after eating to decrease your symptoms.

    • Intravenous (IV) fluids: This is to replace the lost fluids and electrolytes through a tube in your vein. This is given to people who cannot drink liquids.

    • Nasogastric (NG) tube: An NG tube is put into your nose, and passes down your throat until it reaches your stomach. Food and medicine may be given through an NG tube if you cannot take anything by mouth. The tube may instead be attached to suction if caregivers need to keep your stomach empty.

What can I do to prevent or treat acute nausea and vomiting?

  • Avoid alcohol.

  • Avoid stress. Headaches due to stress may cause nausea and vomiting. Find ways to relax and manage your stress. Get more rest and sleep.

  • Drink plenty of liquids. You can replace lost body fluids by drinking plenty of liquids. You may also drink an oral rehydration solution (ORS). An ORS has the right amounts of water, salts, and sugar you need to replace the lost body fluids. Ask your caregiver for more information about ORS.

  • Eat smaller meals, more often. Eat small amounts of food every 2 to 3 hours, even if you are not hungry. Food in your stomach may decrease your nausea.

  • Use over-the-counter medicines. Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines can be bought without a prescription. These medicines are safe for most people and can help you feel better when used correctly. However, they can cause serious problems. People who use certain other medicines, or who have certain medical conditions, are at a higher risk for problems. You may have problems if you use too much or use them for longer than the label says. Follow directions on the label carefully. If you have questions, talk to your caregiver.

Follow up with your caregiver or gastroenterologist as directed:

Relief from nausea and vomiting depends on the cause of the symptoms, your treatment, and other factors. Medicine may take away the nausea. If your vomiting is severe, you may need to get IV fluids in the hospital. If your nausea and vomiting go away quickly, you may not need a follow-up visit with your caregiver. Write down any questions you have so you remember to ask them at your visit.

When should I call my caregiver?

Call your caregiver if:

  • You have frequent dry heaves (vomiting but nothing comes out).

  • Your nausea and vomiting does not get better or go away after you use medicine.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or treatment.

When should I seek immediate help?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You see blood in your vomit or your bowel movements.

  • You have sudden, severe pain in your chest and upper abdomen after hard vomiting or retching.

  • You have swelling in your neck and chest.

  • You are dizzy, cold, and thirsty and your eyes and mouth are dry.

  • You are urinating very little or not at all.

  • You have muscle weakness, leg cramps, and trouble breathing.

  • Your heart is beating much faster than normal.

  • You feel pain at the back of your neck, find it hard to think or speak clearly, or have facial twitching.

  • You continue to vomit for over 48 hours.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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