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When you have nausea and vomiting

Alternate Names

Nausea - self-care; Vomiting - self-care

Symptoms and Causes

Having nausea (being sick to your stomach) and vomiting (throwing up) can be very difficult to go through. Causes may include any of the following:

  • Stomach illness or pregnancy (morning sickness).
  • Medical treatment, such as a cancer treatment.
  • Emotions such as severe worry or stress.

When you have nausea you do not want to eat. This can lead to unhealthy weight loss. Vomiting can make you dehydrated (dried out), which can be dangerous. Once you and your doctor find the cause of your nausea or vomiting, you may be asked to take medicine, change your diet, or try other things to make you feel better.

How to Treat Nausea and Vomiting

Sit quietly when you feel nauseated. Sometimes moving around can make nausea worse.

To make sure your body has enough fluids drink 8 to 10 glasses of clear liquids every day. Water is best. You can also sip fruit juices and flat soda (leave the can or bottle open to get rid of the bubbles). Try sports drinks to replace minerals and other nutrition you may be losing when you throw up.

Eat 6 to 8 small meals throughout the day, instead of 3 big meals:

  • Eat bland foods. Examples are crackers, English muffins, toast, baked chicken and fish, potatoes, noodles, and rice.
  • Try low-fat dairy products.
  • Eat foods with a lot of water in them. Try clear soups, popsicles, and Jell-O.
  • If you have a bad taste in your mouth, try rinsing with a solution of baking soda, salt, and warm water before you eat. Use 1 teaspoon baking soda, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 4 cups warm water. Spit out after rinsing.
  • Sit up after you eat. DO NOT lie down.
  • Find a quiet, pleasant place to eat, free of odors and distractions.

Other tips that may help:

  • Suck on hard candies or rinse your mouth with water after vomiting. Or you can rinse with the baking soda and salt solution above.
  • Try to get outside for some fresh air.
  • Watch a movie or TV to take your mind away from your nausea.

Your doctor may also recommend medicine:

  • Anti-nausea medicines usually start working 30 to 60 minutes after you take them.
  • When you come home after being treated with cancer drugs, you may want to use these medicines regularly for 1 or more days. Use them when nausea first starts. DO NOT wait until you feel very sick to your stomach.

If you are vomiting after taking any of your medicines, tell your doctor or nurse.

Things You Should Avoid

You should avoid some specific kinds of foods when you have nausea and vomiting:

  • Avoid greasy and processed foods, and foods that contain a lot of salt. Some of these are white breads, pastries, doughnuts, sausage, fast-food burgers, fried foods, chips, and many canned foods.
  • Avoid foods with strong smells.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated drinks.
  • Avoid very spicy foods.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor if you or your child:

  • Cannot keep any food or liquid down
  • Vomit 3 or more times in 1 day
  • Have nausea for more than 48 hours
  • Feel weakness
  • Have fever
  • Have stomach pain
  • Have not urinated for 8 hours or more

References

Abrahm JL, Fowler BF. Nausea, vomiting, and early satiety. In: Walsh D, Caraceni AT, Fainsinger R, et al., eds. Palliative Medicine. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2008:chap 169.

Hainsworth JD. Nausea and vomiting. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, et al., eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 45th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2013:chap 42.

Le TP, Gan TJ. Update on the management of postoperative nausea and vomiting and postdischarge nausea and vomiting in ambulatory surgery. Anesthesiology Clin. 2010;28:225–249. PMID: 20488392. Available at: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20488392 .

Lee NM, Saha S. Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. Gastroenterol Clin N Am. 2011;40:309–334. PMID: 21601782. Available at: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21601782 .

Updated: 8/31/2014

Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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