What is it? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments?

What is vomiting?

Pregnancy hormones are thought to be responsible for pregnancy sickness, while babies can suffer from reflux. People suffering from numerous bugs can also suffer from vomiting.

What is Vomiting

Vomiting is the forceful ejection of the stomach contents through the mouth. It can occur in anyone of any age, but is particularly common in babies, children and expectant mums.

Pregnancy hormones are thought to be responsible for pregnancy sickness, and the good news is that many experts believe it indicates that the pregnancy is well established. In rare cases, vomiting in pregnancy can become debilitating and require hospital treatment. This is a condition known as hyperemesis gravidarum.

A common cause of vomiting in children is motion sickness, brought on by travelling. It happens when there's a conflict of messages to the brain from the eyes and the delicate inner ear balance mechanisms. Symptoms can improve as your child's systems adapt to the conditions. Most children grow out of travel sickness.

Other bouts of vomiting can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection, the most common being gastroenteritis, which often causes diarrhoea too.

Repeated vomiting is more serious in babies than any other group, particularly when accompanied by diarrhoea, as they are particularly vulnerable to dehydration.

In rare cases, vomiting can be a sign of a more serious underlying problem. Usually there will be other symptoms, too, so see your GP if you're at all worried about your vomiting.

What are the symptoms of Vomiting?

Being unable to keep food down, or being sick spontaneously. Bouts of vomiting are usually short-lived and may be accompanied by diarrhoea.

If vomiting is accompanied by severe abdominal pain, it could mean you have appendicitis, which is a medical emergency. Untreated appendicitis can lead to peritonitis, which can have serious complications.

In any case, you should call the doctor if:

- The vomiting continues more or less constantly for more than 24 hours.
- You have severe abdominal pain, which could suggest appendicitis.
- You can't keep fluids down.

You can see blood or brown speckles in your vomit, which could indicate a peptic ulcer.

You're bringing up a green substance or your vomit is tinged with green, suggesting that bile is present. This is a digestive juice, and vomiting bile could mean your bowel is obstructed. 

This guide 

The information in this Bounty A-Z of Family Health is not a substitute for an examination, diagnosis or treatment by a doctor, midwife, health visitor or any other qualified health professional. If in doubt, always speak to a doctor.

Bounty will not be held responsible or liable for any injury, loss, damage, or illness, however this occurs or appears, after using the information given on this website and in particular the A-Z of Family Health.

Further help

For health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the NHS offers call and web services. You can also visit NHS websites for services, health information and health news at nhs.uk 

  • England – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs.uk 
  • Scotland – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs24.com 
  • Wales – call 0845 4647 , or visit nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk 
  • Northern Ireland – visit hscni.net