Nausea is an uneasiness of the stomach that often occurs before vomiting.
What causes nausea or vomiting?
Nausea and vomiting are not diseases, however they can be symptoms of many other conditions such as:
- Motion sickness (to include seasickness)
- Early stages of pregnancy
- Vomiting after taking medication
- Intense pain
- Emotional stress
- Gallbladder disease
- Food poisoning
- Infections (e.g. "stomach flu")
- A reaction to certain smells or odours
- Heart attack
- Concussion/head injury or brain injury
- Brain tumor
- Certain forms of cancer
- Bulimia or other psychological illnesses
- Gastroparesis or slow stomach emptying (this can occur in people who suffer from diabetes)
- Ingestion of toxins or excessive amounts of alcohol
It is advised that you call your GP if nausea lasts for more than a few days or if there is a possibility of being pregnant.
How can I prevent nausea?
There are several ways to try and prevent nausea from occurring or worsening:
- Eat several small meals throughout the day instead of three large meals
- Eat slowly
- Avoid any hard-to-digest foods
- Consume foods that are cold or room temperature if you find that you are nauseated by the smell of hot or warm foods
- Rest after eating with your head elevated about 12 inches above your feet
- Drink liquids between meals (rather than during)
- Try to eat again when you feel less nauseated
How do I prevent vomiting once I feel nauseated?
When you begin to feel nauseated, you may be able to prevent vomiting by:
- Drinking small amounts of clear, sweetened liquids such as soda or fruit juices (avoid orange and grapefruit juices, these are too acidic)
- Resting either in a sitting position or in a propped lying position; any activity may worsen nausea and thus lead to vomiting
Vomiting in adults
Vomiting in adults in usually not a sign of anything serious and tends to only last for a day or two.
Vomiting is the body's way of ridding itself of harmful substances from the stomach, or a reaction to something that has irritated the gut.
One of the most common causes of vomiting in adults is gastroenteritis. This is an infection of the gut usually caused by bacteria or a virus, such as a norovirus. Gastroenteritis also causes diarrhoea. Your immune system will usually fight off the infection after a few days.
However, vomiting can occasionally be a sign of something more serious, such as a blockage in your bowel or kidney stones, head injuries, toxins in the body, or side effects of drugs, so if you are feeling very unwell or are worried about your vomiting, trust your instincts and call your GP.
When you should call your GP
Call your GP if you have any of the below signs, which mean you are at high risk for becoming dehydrated or may have a more serious underlying condition:
- You have been vomiting uncontrollably for more than 24 hours
- You have not been able to keep down fluids for 12 hours or more
- Your vomit is green. In this case you are probably bringing up bile (fluid the digestive system uses to digest foods), which suggests you may have a blockage in your bowel
- There is blood in your vomit or a substance resembling coffee granules (potential signs of a peptic ulcer)
- You have severe stomach pain in conjunction with vomiting
Common causes of vomiting in adults are:
Looking after yourself
The most important thing you can do when vomiting is to keep taking small sips of fluid in order to avoid becoming dehydrated. Drink water, squash, diluted fruit juice or semi-skimmed milk.
A sweet drink can be useful for replacing lost sugar and a salty snack, such as a packet of crisps, can help replace lost salt.
You may find that ginger can help to relieve nausea and vomiting. Try drinking fresh ginger stewed in a mug of hot water.
Children & babies
It is normal for babies and children to vomit during their childhood. In most cases, the vomiting will last no longer than one or two days and is not a sign of anything serious.
The most common cause in both children and babies is gastroenteritis. This is an infection of the gut usually caused by a virus or bacteria. It also causes diarrhoea. Your child's immune system will usually fight off the infection after a few days.
However, persistent vomiting can sometimes be a sign of something more serious, such as a severe infection or even meningitis.
What to do
If your child vomits, it is important to monitor their condition closely. Trust your instincts and call your GP immediately if you are worried.
If the cause is merely a tummy bug, they should still be feeling well enough to eat, play and be their usual self. In this case, keep feeding them as normal and offer them regular drinks.
But if they do not seem like their usual selves - for example, if they are floppy, irritable, less responsive or have lost their appetite - there is a higher chance they could be seriously ill and you should call your GP immediately.
When to call your GP:
- if your child has been vomiting for more than 24 hours
- if your child has not been able to hold down fluids for the last eight hours, or you think they are dehydrated
- if they are floppy, irritable, off their food or generally not their usual self
- if they have severe tummy pain
- if they have a headache and stiff neck
Severe vomiting and diarrhoea can quickly lead to dehydration, especially in young babies. This results in your child's body does not have enough water or the right balance of salts to carry out its normal functions.
Looking after your child
The most important thing you can do if your child is vomiting is to make sure they keep drinking small sips of fluids as much as possible. They can drink water, diluted squash, diluted fruit juice or semi-skimmed milk.
If your baby is vomiting, carry on breastfeeding. If they seem dehydrated, they will need extra fluids. Ask your pharmacist if they would recommend oral rehydration fluids for your baby (brands include Dioralyte, Electrolade and Rehidrat).
If your child cannot hold down the oral rehydration solution, it is important to contact your GP or nurse.
Vomiting blood (haematemesis) - in adults or children - could be a sign of a serious problem. If this happens, you should go to your GP surgery or nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department.
Call into your local CarePlus pharmacy and speak to one of our friendly pharmacists for advice.