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What are the Most Common Causes of Severe Vomiting?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated May 17, 2024
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The most common causes of severe vomiting are pregnancy, motion sickness, bacterial or viral infection, ear infection, or extreme pain elsewhere in the body. Some more serious but less likely causes for vomiting include a brain tumor, aneurysm, or appendicitis. Any severe symptoms should be reported to a health care professional right away to rule out a serious condition.

Pregnancy is one common cause of severe vomiting. Nausea and throwing up during pregnancy is common, and more than half of all women experience it. The reasons behind it are not clear, although hormones are likely to blame. Many medications are not safe for pregnancy, but if vomiting is chronic and not alleviated by simpler methods, a prescription may be given. Generally, stomach upset goes away between weeks 12 and 16 of pregnancy.

Motion sickness is another one of the common causes of severe vomiting. It is characterized by a woozy or queasy feeling during periods of movement and can take place in a car, plane, bus, or on a boat. Many report sickness worsening with swaying or “back and forth” movements. Vomiting often subsides once motion is stopped.

Infections of the gastrointestinal tract, or stomach flu, is one of the most common causes of severe vomiting. This can be caused by an airborne pathogen or through undercooked or spoiled food. Sufferers often experience severe nausea and vomiting that is accompanied by diarrhea and stomach cramps. Treatment includes drinking fluids in order to stay hydrated, bed rest, and sometimes antibiotics, although these are normally not necessary.

Ear infections may also cause severe vomiting because they can throw off the body’s equilibrium. Dizziness may be the result, followed by nausea and vomiting. They are typically treated with antibiotics.

Severe pain anywhere in the body may also result in vomiting. This often occurs in the case of migraine headaches. Symptoms usually subside when the underlying condition is treated or cured.

When severe vomiting is long lasting, it is important to stay hydrated. Dehydration can cause serious complications and sometimes death if not caught early and treated. This is especially important in young children, so parents should give their child fluids regularly while he or she is sick. Water or electrolyte fluids are recommended in lieu of heavily sugared soda, juice, or fruit drinks. Milk should be avoided entirely.

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