9 Possible Vomiting Causes
The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced vomiting. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Viral (norovirus) infection
If you ever heard of an entire cruise ship of people coming down with the same "stomach bug," chances are that was norovirus. Fortunately, norovirus usually goes away on its own after a few days, but is pretty unpleasant and can spread extremely easily. The main symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea, which can be severe enough to require hydration with intravenous fluids. However, other treatments are rarely necessary. In the developing world where access to supportive care is less available, norovirus infection is still responsible for tens of thousands of deaths each year, primarily due to dehydration.
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
Non-specific nausea and vomiting
Nausea and vomiting with no recognizable cause.
Top Symptoms: nausea, vomiting
Symptoms that always occur with non-specific nausea and vomiting: nausea, vomiting
Symptoms that never occur with non-specific nausea and vomiting: diarrhea, fever, headache
Food poisoning, also called foodborne illness or "stomach flu," is an acute infection of the digestive tract from food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, or other toxins. It actually has no relation to influenza.
Any food can become contaminated if not prepared under clean conditions, cooked thoroughly, or stored at cold temperatures. Meat, fish, dairy products, and fresh fruits and vegetables are some of the most easily contaminated foods.
Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, and sometimes fever and chills.
Most people recover on their own with supportive care, meaning rest, fluids, and over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers.
However, dehydration can result if the vomiting and/or diarrhea are not controlled and IV fluids may be needed.
If there is also blurred vision, dizziness, or paralysis, the nervous system may be affected due to botulism. This is a medical emergency. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.
Proper food preparation and storage, along with frequent and thorough handwashing, is the best prevention.
Top Symptoms: nausea, abdominal pain (stomach ache), headache, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), dizziness
Symptoms that never occur with food poisoning: severe fever, being severely ill, bloody diarrhea
Indigestion, also called upset stomach, dyspepsia, or functional dyspepsia, is not a disease but a collection of very common symptoms. Note: Heartburn is a separate condition.
Common causes are eating too much or too rapidly; greasy or spicy foods; overdoing caffeine, alcohol, or carbonated beverages; smoking; and anxiety. Some antibiotics, pain relievers, and vitamin/mineral supplements can cause indigestion.
The most common symptoms are pain, discomfort, and bloating in the upper abdomen soon after eating.
Indigestion that lasts longer than two weeks, and does not respond to simple treatment, may indicate a more serious condition. Upper abdominal pain that radiates to the jaw, neck, or arm is a medical emergency.
Diagnosis is made through patient history and physical examination. If the symptoms began suddenly, laboratory tests on blood, breath, and stool may be ordered. Upper endoscopy or abdominal x-ray may be done.
For functional dyspepsia – "ordinary" indigestion – treatment and prevention are the same. Eating five or six smaller meals per day with lighter, simpler food; managing stress; and finding alternatives for some medications will provide relief.
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
Viral (rotavirus) infection
Rotavirus infection is a contagious gastrointestinal virus that most often affects babies, toddlers, and young children. It causes severe watery diarrhea, sometimes with vomiting and fever.
Adults may also be infected, though usually with milder symptoms.
Rotavirus spreads very quickly when any trace of stool from an infected child contaminates food or drink, or gets onto any surface. If another child consumes the food or drink, or touches the surface and then their mouth, the child will become infected.
Rotavirus in adults does not usually need a trip to the ER unless the degree of dehydration is severe but dehydration can set in quickly in children and is a medical emergency. A child can die if not treated immediately. Take the child to an emergency room or call 9-1-1.
Treatment consists of drinking fluids or IV fluids in severe cases and supportive care, usually in a hospital. Antibiotics will not help rotavirus because they only work against bacteria.
The best way prevention is frequent and thorough handwashing, as well as washing toys and surfaces when possible. There is now a vaccine that will either prevent rotavirus infection or greatly lessen the symptoms if the child still gets the virus.
Rarity: Ultra rare
Top Symptoms: diarrhea, vomiting or nausea, nausea, fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), headache
Symptoms that always occur with viral (rotavirus) infection: diarrhea, vomiting or nausea
Symptoms that never occur with viral (rotavirus) infection: constipation, tarry stool
Migraines are headaches of moderate to severe intensity, which happen when blood vessels in the brain swell up. They are episodic and thus can recur often. Most migraine sufferers experience increased sensitivity to sounds and/or lights and become nauseous and vomit.
Top Symptoms: headache, history of headaches, fatigue, nausea, mild headache
Symptoms that always occur with recurrent migraine: headache, history of headaches
Symptoms that never occur with recurrent migraine: fever, headache resulting from a head injury
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Food poisoning by the staphylococcus bacteria
Food poisoning by staphylococcus bacteria refers to the stomach and intestinal upset caused by eating foods contaminated with the staphylococcus, or "staph," bacteria.
Most often, food is contaminated when the person preparing it did not thoroughly wash their hands first. The staph bacteria quickly multiply in food or milk, producing toxins which actually create the illness. The toxins are not destroyed by cooking and the food may look fresh.
Symptoms develop rapidly, within 30 minutes to a few hours, and include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramping, and diarrhea. The illness itself is not spread from person to person.
Diagnosis is made through patient history and physical examination. Lab tests are usually not necessary, but testing may be done if there is a large outbreak with many people affected in one place.
A food poisoning episode usually resolves on its own within 24 hours. Antibiotics are not effective against the toxins. The symptoms can be treated with rest, plenty of fluids, and electrolyte replacement with sports drinks. Severe cases may need intravenous fluids in a hospital.
Top Symptoms: nausea, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), vomiting
Symptoms that always occur with food poisoning by the staphylococcus bacteria: nausea or vomiting
Small bowel obstruction
The small bowel, or small intestine, is a long, coiled, tube-like structure that connects the stomach to the large intestine (the large bowel, or colon.) If the small bowel is blocked for any reason, food and liquid cannot pass through. This is a medical emergency.
There a number of possible causes. Scar tissue called adhesions can form after any abdominal surgery (including Caesarean section.) Inflammation from Crohn's disease or diverticulitis causes the intestinal wall to thicken and narrow. Hernias or tumors can also cause blockage.
Symptoms include inability to have a bowel movement or pass gas; abdominal cramping and swelling; loss of appetite; and vomiting.
If not treated, a small bowel obstruction can cut off the blood supply to the small intestine. This leads to tissue death, which can then tear and cause an infection in the abdominal cavity called peritonitis. Both of these are medical emergencies.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination, x-ray, CT scan, and/or ultrasound.
Once diagnosed, most patients are hospitalized. Surgery may be necessary to clear the obstruction.
Top Symptoms: abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, stomach bloating, being severely ill, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)
Symptoms that always occur with small bowel obstruction: being severely ill
Urgency: Hospital emergency room
Food poisoning caused by bacillus cereus
Bacillus cereus is a bacteria that produces spores in a variety of foods, especially rice and leftovers that are left out at room temperature. It is relatively rare compared to other causes of food poisoning.
Top Symptoms: stomach bloating, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), diarrhea, vomiting
FAQs About Vomiting
Here are some frequently asked questions about vomiting.
Can vomiting cause dehydration?
Yes vomiting can cause dehydration due to loss of both fluids and electrolytes in gastric contents and inability to take in additional fluids. In severe cases vomiting can cause changes in mental status and can affect kidney function.
What foods are good for nausea?
Generally, bland foods are good for nausea. Start by trying simply water, then clear broth and possibly Jell-O, followed by non-clear broth, then salt-less crackers or white bread, and then more complex bread and foods.
When should you seek medical attention for vomiting?
You should seek medical attention if there is a brown, coffee ground-like substance in your vomit, if there is blood in your vomit, if you feel weak for a prolonged period of time, if you are unable to stand or sit up, and if you are alone while undergoing an ordeal of intense vomiting.
Why do I feel like vomiting but then nothing comes out?
Vomiting can be caused by nausea independent of what is or is not in one's stomach. Sometimes, when one has to vomit, the stomach is empty in which case, one feels the undulations of an upset stomach (wretching) so no food exits the body.
Why do I keep vomiting in the morning?
Vomiting in the morning can be a sign of many things. Most notable and dangerously, a tumor placing pressure on the brain can cause a morning headache and vomiting in the morning. This is a more common presentation of a brain tumor within children. It can also be a sign of pregnancy.
Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Vomiting
To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:
- Any fever today or during the last week?
- Have you lost your appetite recently?
- Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
- Are you experiencing a headache?
The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.
If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions
Take a quiz to find out why you're having vomiting
Vomiting Symptom Checker Statistics
People who have experienced vomiting have also experienced:
- 16% Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache)
- 10% Nausea
- 6% Diarrhea
People who have experienced vomiting were most often matched with:
- 33% Viral (Norovirus) Infection
- 33% Non-Specific Nausea And Vomiting
- 33% Food Poisoning
People who have experienced vomiting had symptoms persist for:
- 65% Less than a day
- 21% Less than a week
- 5% Over a month
Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).