The Urge to Vomit: Causes and Remedies

The urge to vomit can occur for many reasons. Most of the causes are not serious and don't require medical treatment.
The Urge to Vomit: Causes and Remedies
Leidy Mora Molina

Reviewed and approved by the nurse Leidy Mora Molina.

Last update: 24 May, 2023

Nausea, also commonly referred to as the urge to vomit, is a subjective sensation that indicates the proximity of vomiting. Unfortunately, this symptom is very common and can appear in various situations. In this article, we’re going to tell you a little more about its causes and the remedies you can apply.

The urge to vomit is often accompanied by other symptoms:

  • General malaise
  • Headache
  • Bitter taste in the mouth
  • Cold sweating

In addition, this feeling may or may not end with the expulsion of gastric contents. Howevef, the discomfort caused by this symptom tends to disappear on its own after a few hours.

It’s also possible to apply certain measures to alleviate the symptoms. However, a medical evaluation is always recommended if the discomfort is very intense or lasts more than a day.

Causes of the urge to vomit

Most of the causes of nausea are benign in origin. However, sometimes it can be a serious problem that requires specialized attention.

1. Food

Both large meals and frequent intake of high-fat foods can cause the onset of the urge to vomit. This is because they delay the digestion process, leading to the appearance of a series of symptoms, among which nausea stands out.

Intolerance to some component of food can also generate discomfort. In this sense, people with celiac disease will have the symptom when ingesting gluten, as do lactose intolerant people when they consume dairy products.

Girl with lactose intolerance and urge to vomit
Lactose intolerant people may feel like vomiting when they ingest a product that’s not lactose-free.

2. Gastrointestinal problems

A large number of diseases of the digestive system may involve vomiting as part of their clinical manifestations. Some of the most relevant conditions are gastritis, gastroesophageal reflux, and pancreatitis.

Food poisoning can also cause nausea, as well as diarrhea, colic, and general malaise. GI bleeding, especially upper gastrointestinal bleeding, is another common cause of gastrointestinal nausea and vomiting.

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3. Pregnancy

Pregnancy is one of the most common causes of the urge to vomit in women of childbearing age. A study published in the journal BMJ Clinical Evidence states that it’s frequently observed in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Most women begin to notice the symptom as early as week 4, and it may disappear after week 16. Although the exact cause is unknown, it’s believed to be due to the hormonal changes characteristic of this stage.

4. Motion sickness and the urge to vomit

Motion sickness or kinetosis appears when traveling by car, plane, or boat and corresponds to another common cause of nausea. Any person can present this alteration, however, it is more common in women, children, and those who take certain drugs.

What happens is that there’s a discordance between what’s perceived by the joint receptors, the eyes, and the inner ear. In this sense, the body can perceive movement, but the eyes can’t, which generates confusing signals for the brain.

5. Migraines

Migraines are defined as a headache of varying intensity that tends to last several hours and are recurring. People may experience other symptoms when the severity of the discomfort is very high, including the urge to vomit.

6. Infectious diseases and the urge to vomit

Viral and bacterial infections are capable of causing a large number of systemic symptoms. Some of the most prominent are fever, general malaise, and, of course, the urge to vomit.

In fact, there are infections of the digestive tract, such as viral gastroenteritis, which manifest themselves through nausea. In this case, it’s important to go to the doctor as soon as possible to receive the appropriate treatment and prevent the progression of the infection.

7. Anxiety and stress

Psychological problems have the capacity to generate physical manifestations as part of the somatization process. In fact, a study in the journal Experimental Brain Research related the appearance of nausea to anxiety traits in children.

Excessive stress may also be responsible for the appearance of the urge to vomit. This is because both disorders generate changes in the autonomic nervous system and certain hormones.

8. Labyrinthitis and the urge to vomit

The labyrinth is a small structure inside the inner ear that is involved in maintaining posture and balance. This anatomical part can become inflamed for multiple reasons, causing labyrinthitis, and with it, the appearance of symptoms such as nausea and vertigo.

Like this article? You may also like to read: The Health Effects of Sudden Changes in Temperature

9. A hangover

Hangovers appears after a person ingests alcoholic beverages excessively. The symptoms that may occur are very varied:

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Excessive thirst
  • General malaise

This situation is due to the dehydration produced by alcohol consumption. In addition to the effort made by the liver to eliminate the substance from the body.

10. The side effects of certain medications

All drugs currently marketed have the ability to generate unwanted effects in those who consume them. One of the most common adverse reactions is the urge to vomit. Fortunately, their intensity is low and they tend to disappear on their own.

Among the drugs that cause the most nausea are the chemotherapy drugs used for cancer treatment. In fact, a publication in the journal Breast Cancer showed that up to 44% of people treated may have the symptom in the acute phase.

11. Intense physical exertion

The urge to vomit and vomiting may appear at the time of intense physical training, especially if people don’t have the right body condition. This is because the muscles will generate excessive lactic acid and the body will try to eliminate it through multiple means, including vomiting.

12. Hypoglycemia

Low blood sugar or hypoglycemia is another common cause of nausea and vomiting. The brain is mainly nourished by glucose, so when its concentration in the blood decreases, the characteristic symptomatology appears.

13. Other possible causes of the urge to vomit

The urge to vomit is a general symptom that can indicate the presence of many other conditions, some of them of considerable severity.

Fortunately, such conditions are less frequent, although it’s always necessary to take them into account:

  • Vertigo
  • Cancer
  • Appendicitis
  • The ingestion of toxins
  • An intestinal obstruction
  • Stomach or duodenal ulcers
Cicatriz de apendicitis.
One of the onset symptoms of appendicitis is nausea along with pain in the epigastrium, which then migrates to the lower abdomen.

What to do if I feel like vomiting?

First of all, it’s necessary to keep in mind that the recommendations to relieve the urge to vomit will depend on its specific cause. However, one of the most commonly used measures is to control your diet by avoiding large and greasy meals.

The consumption of products that contain a lot of water is useful. On the other hand, drinking small amounts of liquid and staying still for several minutes can also help to calm the symptoms. In case of a bitter taste in the mouth, it’s possible to use mouthwash.

On the other hand, it’s necessary to avoid foods with strong odors, caffeine, alcohol, soda, and spicy foods. These foods can worsen nausea and lead to vomiting.

There are also certain drugs to remove the urge to vomit, such as metoclopramide. However, they begin to take effect about 30 minutes after ingestion and aren’t recommended without a doctor’s supervision.

Vomiting is a common symptom with multiple causes

Vomiting can occur for multiple reasons. Most of the causes are not serious and don’t require specific treatment. However, it’s always recommended to consult a physician to find the source of the problem and avoid complications.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Festin M. Nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy. BMJ Clin Evid. 2014 Mar 19;2014:1405.
  • Tarbell SE, Shaltout HA, Wagoner AL, Diz DI, Fortunato JE. Relationship among nausea, anxiety, and orthostatic symptoms in pediatric patients with chronic unexplained nausea. Exp Brain Res. 2014 Aug;232(8):2645-50.
  • Naito Y, Kai Y, Ishikawa T, Fujita T et al. Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in patients with breast cancer: a prospective cohort study. Breast Cancer. 2020 Jan;27(1):122-128.
  • Bruley des Varannes S, Liard F, Filoche L, Savarieau B. Les nausées : données actuelles [Nausea: Current view]. Presse Med. 2019 May;48(5):478-487.
  • Lacy BE, Parkman HP, Camilleri M. Chronic nausea and vomiting: evaluation and treatment. Am J Gastroenterol. 2018 May;113(5):647-659.
  • Veiga-Gil L, Pueyo J, López-Olaondo L. Postoperative nausea and vomiting: physiopathology, risk factors, prophylaxis and treatment. Rev Esp Anestesiol Reanim. 2017 Apr;64(4):223-232.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.