What Causes Vomiting and Nausea?

Although vomiting by itself is not a medical condition, it may be a sign that you have underlying health issues and should be examined for treatment by a doctor if the vomiting or nausea persists for more than a week or so. Patients who are experiencing vomiting feel forced to empty their stomach, causing contents to come up violently through the esophagus from the stomach, along with acid and bile from the stomach. It is a physically exhaustive act because the body has to counteract the naturally pressures that keep food down in the stomach in order to empty the stomach. While you vomit, you may notice feelings of your stomach being turned inside out—which it basically is doing in order to forcibly empty itself. Nausea, on the other hand, is simply a feeling that your body wants to empty the stomach and oftentimes is accompanied by dizziness, lightheadedness and a loss of appetite.

Because vomiting is a symptom and not a disease itself—there are various causes. Sometimes vomiting is triggered by certain medication, especially antibiotics. Other times, headaches, ear infections, brain tumors and any conditions that cause the pressure inside your head to increase may make you vomit. Simply being sick or pregnant oftentimes makes patients nauseous as well, which results sometimes in vomiting. In gastroenterology, your GI doctor may detect any of the following conditions as the culprit of your vomiting: acute gastritis (inflammation of the stomach tissue or lining), gallbladder disease, inflammatory bowel disease, delayed gastric motility, pancreatitis, bowel obstruction or cancer.

How Does Acute Gastritis Cause Vomiting?

Acute gastritis is any condition that causes inflammation in the stomach tissue and stomach lining. Infections (viral, bacterial or parasitic) may cause you to feel abdominal pain and experience vomiting. Usually, vomiting triggered by an infection will be accompanied by diarrhea—as your body’s immune system is trying to rid itself of the virus completely and in any way possible. Sometimes this type of condition is characterized under the umbrella term, “stomach flu.” Other ways gastritis can cause vomiting include food poisoning, peptic ulcers, GERD (which affects the stomach tissue and the esophagus tissue) and some medications that irritate the stomach lining. If the irritation is caused by ulcers, or open sores in the body, you may notice blood in your vomit—in which case medical attention is immediately necessary.

How Can Bowel Obstruction Cause Vomiting?

If your vomiting comes with feeling bloated or having a swollen abdominal area (distention), you may have an obstructed bowel. Patients suffering from bowel obstruction also find it difficult to pass gas or stool easily. Scar tissue, foreign objects and tumors can cause blockage in the bowel which may cause your body to feel nauseous and want to vomit as a symptom.


Reviewed 12/29/2011 by David M. Nolan, M.D.
Diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine, 2011
Currently a Fellow of Gastroenterology, at UCI 2011-2014