Read below about retching, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your retching from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

This symptom can also be referred to as:
Throwing up without any vomit
Dry heaving

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Retching Symptoms

When you want to throw up, you want to just get it over with—not keep trying at it.

But retching, or dry heaving, is when the body keeps trying to vomit but you can't. It's a very irritating sensation that typically keeps happening over and over again. Most of us have our first experience with the dry heaves the first time we drink too much. But to put it quite plainly, it is not a pleasant sensation.

In medical terms, to "retch" is when your diaphragm contracts in an effort to vomit but the body is unsuccessful in doing so. [10,11]

The symptoms of retching are:

  • Feeling as if you need to vomit but cannot. [9]
  • Gagging. [12]
  • Feeling as if the diaphragm is "jumping" in your stomach when you retch. [10]
  • Trying repeatedly to vomit but cannot. [10]
  • Breaking out in a sweat. [12]
  • Nausea. [12]
  • Chills. [13]
  • Indigestion. [8]
  • Abdominal pain. [12]
  • Sometimes the individual will be able to vomit. [12]
  • Vomiting only bile after continued vomiting and retching. [2]

Retching Causes

Retching is caused by a medical situation which is causing your stomach to want to eject all its contents. Often, individuals want very much to vomit who are having dry heaves, just to resolve all their symptoms. [1]

Lifestyle-related causes:

  • Exercise: Periods of strenuous exercise can lead to retching as it causes the diaphragm to contract. If your exercise sessions are intense, avoid eating a large meal right before. [2]
  • Stress: Moments of high stress can cause retching in some. If you're managing stress or anxiety with medication, certain brands can cause dry heaving as well. [3,4]

Infectious causes:

  • Food poisoning: Eating or drinking a contaminated substance can cause food poisoning. Vomiting is a more likely symptom, but this can be followed by dry heaving once the stomach is empty. [5]
  • Whooping cough: We often associate whooping cough with babies but adults can contract the infection as well. If the associated cough continues to develop and worsen, it can cause retching. [6]

Conditions and diseases:

  • Pregnancy: It is estimated that as many as 90% of pregnant women experience some degree of nausea in early pregnancy. The severity of the nausea varies greatly though. While some women spend months in bed, unable to keep anything down, some only experience a few episodes of retching. [7]
  • GERD: Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a digestive disorder affecting the lower esophageal sphincter. Heartburn and acid indigestion are common symptoms of GERD, both which can lead to retching. [8]

More serious causes of retching/dry heaving include:

  • Liver, kidney, or pancreas disorders: Nausea accompanied by a loss of appetite are a common sign of serious liver, kidney, and pancreas diseases and disorders. If your retching persists, see your physician. [9]
  • Whooping Cough: This is a serious illness caused by infection that causes persistent coughing, that can become so severe it causes gagging, vomiting, and dry heaves. [6]

9 Possible Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced retching. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

  1. 1.Indigestion (Dyspepsia)

    Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, is a condition that causes pain or discomfort in the stomach after eating. In some cases, indigestion also causes heartburn, burping, and nausea. Indigestion or dyspepsia is a very common complaint. Every year, about 1 in every 4 people will experience an episode of dyspepsia, of which most cases do not have a serious underlying cause.

    These symptoms are likely to resolve, if they persist you should discuss this with your primary care physician.

    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, stomach bloating, dyspeptic symptoms, bloating after meals, vomiting
    Symptoms that always occur with indigestion (dyspepsia):
    dyspeptic symptoms
    Symptoms that never occur with indigestion (dyspepsia):
    vomiting (old) blood or passing tarry stools, rectal bleeding, bloody diarrhea, fever
  2. 2.Functional Dyspepsia / Indigestion

    Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, is a condition that causes pain or discomfort in the stomach after eating. In some cases, indigestion also causes heartburn, burping, and nausea. Indigestion or dyspepsia is a very common complaint and in most cases there is no serious underlying cause. This is when doctors call it 'functional'.

    Symptoms of indigestion often come and go and may be chronic. Usually treatment includes medicines that neutralize or diminish stomach acid production or medicines that relief nausea.

    Top Symptoms:
    stomach bloating, nausea, dyspeptic symptoms, bloating after meals, vomiting
    Symptoms that always occur with functional dyspepsia/indigestion:
    dyspeptic symptoms
    Symptoms that never occur with functional dyspepsia/indigestion:
    vomiting (old) blood or passing tarry stools, rectal bleeding, bloody diarrhea, fever
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Viral (Norovirus) Infection

    Noroviruses are a group of related viruses that leads to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps. These viruses cause gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. When the diarrhea and/or vomiting is severe, dehydration can occur. Symptoms of dehydration include a dry mouth, dizziness, urinating less frequently and dark urine.

    Usually resolves within 2-3 days.

    Top Symptoms:
    diarrhea, vomiting or nausea, fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain (stomach ache), headache
    Symptoms that always occur with viral (norovirus) infection:
    diarrhea, vomiting or nausea
    Symptoms that never occur with viral (norovirus) infection:
    severe abdominal pain, throbbing headache, severe headache, tarry stool, vaginal bleeding, alertness level change
  4. 4.Gastroparesis (Delayed Gastric Emptying)

    Gastroparesis is a condition that causes nausea and vomiting. It can also make you feel full too soon after you start eating. It happens because the stomach takes too long to empty and does not move food along through your body fast enough.

    This is a chronic condition but can be well managed with prescription medicines and adjustment in diet .

    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, stomach bloating, vomiting, pain below the ribs, feeling of fullness early in a meal
    Primary care doctor

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  5. 5.Possible Pregnancy

    In women of reproductive age, symptoms including missed period, weight gain, and nausea are indicative of pregnancy.

    9 months

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, nausea or vomiting, stomach bloating, bloody vaginal discharge, vaginal bleeding
    Symptoms that always occur with possible pregnancy:
    missed period
    Symptoms that never occur with possible pregnancy:
    painful urination, severe abdominal pain
  6. 6.Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome

    Cyclic vomiting syndrome is characterized by episodes of severe vomiting that have no apparent cause. Episodes can last for hours or days and alternate with relatively symptom-free periods of time.

    This is a chronic condition.

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, nausea, headache, abdominal pain (stomach ache), trouble sleeping
    Symptoms that always occur with cyclic vomiting syndrome:
    episodic vomiting
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Bulimia

    Bulimia Nervosa is an eating disorder. People suffering from this condition sometimes will eat huge amounts of food, and might take extreme steps such as making themselves vomit to avoid putting on weight.

    With appropriate treatment, recovery is very likely.

    Top Symptoms:
    anxiety, irritability, stomach bloating, trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating
    Symptoms that always occur with bulimia:
    vomiting after binge eating
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Stomach Twisting (Gastric Volvulus)

    Gastric Volvulus is a serious condition where the stomach abnormally rotates within the belly, creating an obstruction cutting off flow of food and the flow of blood to the tissues. This condition can cause severe pain in the upper abdomen, and retching without vomiting.

    Post-operative recovery in hospital takes a few days up to week. Symptoms are expected to completely resolve by 6 weeks.

    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea or vomiting, being severely ill, severe abdominal pain, vomiting, general abdominal pain
    Symptoms that always occur with stomach twisting (gastric volvulus):
    being severely ill
    Emergency medical service
  9. 9.Esophageal Perforation

    An esophageal perforation is a hole in the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube food passes through as it goes from the mouth to the stomach.


    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    being severely ill, shortness of breath, chest pain, fever, trouble swallowing
    Symptoms that always occur with esophageal perforation:
    being severely ill
    Hospital emergency room

Retching Treatments, Relief and Prevention

In most cases, a trip to the doctor is not required for retching. But there are a few things you should look out for.

If any of the following occur, seek medical attention immediately.

Here are some of the most effective treatments for dry heaves and retching.

  • Ginger tea: Ginger is an ancient remedy for gastrointestinal issues of all kinds. It's very soothing to the stomach. Try herbal ginger teas or add some raw or dried ginger to other soothing herbal teas like chamomile. [14]
  • Peppermint: Peppermint is an herb that has been used for millennia to bring relief to pregnant women and other individuals suffering from nausea for all kinds of reasons. Peppermint soothes the stomach and gastrointestinal tract and can be very effective for relieving retching, especially peppermint herbal tea. [14]
  • Relaxation and mindfulness: Stress is one cause of retching, and any kind of mindfulness exercises, meditation, or deep breathing exercises can help relax the body, mind, and the contracting diaphragm, bringing relief from retching/dry heaving. [15]
  • Baking soda in water or an antacid: Often, just a teaspoon or two of baking soda in water or an antacid tablet can help alleviate acidity in the stomach and relieve heaves and retching. [16]
  • Anti-emetics: Over the counter nausea medications can help with vomiting and dry heaves. Follow the specific directions for whatever particular OTC medication you have chosen for these. [12]

FAQs About Retching

Here are some frequently asked questions about retching.

Why am I retching in the morning?

Morning vomiting or retching can be a sign of pregnancy, also known as morning sickness, within the first trimester. Other much rarer causes of vomiting in the morning include — especially in children — a mass within the skull that can be benign or malignant. [9]

Can anxiety cause retching?

Anxiety can cause retching. As the sympathetic nervous system is activated, it may cause a decrease of the parasympathetic nervous system and this may cause an expulsion of any food in the stomach of the anxious individual. It is relatively common, and if an individual is able to control his or her anxiety, the retching should abate. [15]

Will retching harm my baby?

One of the most common causes of retching among infants is gastroesophageal reflux. It is a common disorder in healthy infants and usually resolves by the first year of life in most infants. The vomiting and retching are not harmful to the infant unless the infant is having difficulty feeding and gaining weight. [17]

Why do I retch while brushing my teeth?

While brushing your teeth, you are likely touching an area of the tongue between the tonsils that is triggering the pharyngeal reflex or gag reflex. Contact with this area by the toothbrush hints to the body that something that is too large or too hard to travel down the esophagus is in the back of the throat. To avoid choking, the body triggers laryngeal spasm or a gag, completing the gag reflex. [18]

What causes retching without vomiting?

Retching without vomiting can be caused by something triggering a gag reflex in a setting in which there is no further stimulus to the stomach. Retching without vomiting can also be caused if there is little or no substance left in the stomach to vomit. If an individual hasn't eaten or drank anything recently, they may be unable to vomit any substance and may retch until their reflex is complete. [18]

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Retching

  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you experienced any nausea?
  • Q.Have you vomited?
  • Q.Does light bother your eyes more than usual?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our retching symptom checker to find out more.

Retching Quiz

Retching Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced retching have also experienced:

    • 18% Nausea
    • 8% Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache)
    • 4% Fatigue
  • People who have experienced retching were most often matched with:

    • 60% Functional Dyspepsia / Indigestion
    • 20% Indigestion (Dyspepsia)
    • 20% Viral (Norovirus) Infection
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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  1. NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms. National Cancer Institute. NCI Link.
  2. Samborski P, Chmielarz-Czarnocińska A, Grzymisławski M. Exercise-Induced Vomiting. Przeglad Gastroenterologiczny. 2013;8(6):396-400. NCBI Link.
  3. Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome. NHS. Updated August 16, 2017. NHS Link.
  4. Aung TY, Soo S. Drugs Induced Nausea and Vomiting: An Overview. IOSR Journal of Pharmacy and Biological Sciences. 2016;11(3):5-9. IOSR Journals Link.
  5. Vomiting Without Diarrhea. Seattle Children's Hospital. Updated November 8, 2018. Seattle Children's Hospital Link.
  6. Pertussis. Nationwide Children's Hospital. Nationwide Children's Hospital Link.
  7. O'Brien B, Zhou Q. Variables Related to Nausea and Vomiting During Pregnancy. Birth. 1995;22(2):93-100. NCBI Link.
  8. Quenching the Fire of Heartburn. UC Davis Health. UC Davis Health Link.
  9. Thomson ABR, Shaffer EA, eds. First Principles of Gastroenterology. 5th ed. Janssen-Ortho. Journal of the Canadian Association of Gastroenterology Link.
  10. Miller AD. Respiratory Muscle Control During Vomiting. Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology. 1990;68(2):237-241. NCBI Link.
  11. Looking Out for Your Friends. Stanford University: Office of Alcohol Policy and Education. Stanford University Link.
  12. Nausea and Vomiting. Mayo Clinic. Published June 30, 2018. Mayo Clinic Link.
  13. When to Go to the ER. UnitedRegional Physician Group. UR Physician Group Link.
  14. Gerszberg D. 8 Tips for Managing Chemotherapy-Induced Nausea. ColumbiaDoctors. ColumbiaDoctors Link.
  15. Non-Drug Treatments for Nausea and Vomiting. American Cancer Society. Updated February 13, 2017. American Cancer Society Link.
  16. Sodium Bicarbonate (Oral Route, Intravenous Route, Subcutaneous Route). Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic Link.
  17. Acid Reflux (GER & GERD) in Infants. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Published April 2015. NIDDK Link.
  18. Swenson R, eds. Disorders of the Nervous System. Published 2008. Dartmouth College Link.