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What are the Most Common Causes of Sudden Vomiting?

By Daphne Mallory
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Sudden vomiting occurs when stomach contents are expelled through the mouth, often in connection to a viral infection, a digestive condition, or gastrointestinal illness. Common causes of sudden vomiting include the stomach flu, bacterial illness, and intestinal obstruction. The vomiting may or may not be accompanied by other symptoms, but if it is then it makes diagnosing the cause more accurate. For example, diarrhea, pain in the abdominal area, and nausea often follow vomiting or may occur simultaneously. Identifying each of these accompanying symptoms helps to determine whether the vomiting signals a medical emergency or whether it is sufficient to take home remedies or over-the-counter medications.

The most common cause of sudden vomiting is the stomach flu. Gastroenteritis is the medical term for it, which is descriptive of the illness. The flu occurs when the gastrointestinal tract becomes inflamed, often by parasites in food, an allergic reaction to certain foods such as dairy products, or a virus. Nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal pain are all symptoms that indicate gastroenteritis.

Eating foods that contain bacteria that are harmful to the body can result in bacterial illness. The body reacts by trying to eject the bacteria by vomiting. Bacteria in foods is often the result of eating raw meat, fish, and poultry or leaving foods out that should be refrigerated. Faulty food preparation practices can often lead to contamination as well. An upset stomach and vomiting may indicate a bacterial illness, and the best treatment is to drink plenty of fluids and rest.

A viral infection can also cause sudden vomiting. For example, noroviruses, also called Norwalk viruses, can pass between persons or spread through contaminated foods. One food that is often the cause of a norovirus infection is shellfish, but other foods can be contaminated as well. There is often no treatment for a norovirus other than to manage frequent vomiting and other symptoms that may occur. There is a threat of dehydration, and therefore remaining hydrated until the symptoms pass is crucial.

Intestinal obstruction is the result of the small or large intestine getting twisted or physically blocked. What would normally pass through the intestines can no longer pass through, resulting in severe abdominal pain. It’s a medical emergency that must be taken care of immediately if cramping, passing frequent gas, and breath odor also accompany the sudden vomiting. Not seeking medical attention often results in more severe health complications.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1000789 — On Dec 31, 2018

There actually is a treatment for norovirus. The overlooked (but essential to health) micronutrient molybdenum is key to treating norovirus. A chelated form of it, molybdenum glycinate, given as needed is very effective at treating the nausea/vomiting/diarrhea induced by norovirus. I find that using much larger doses than the RDA is required, but usually one or two doses (which are still below the upper intake level) suffice. It's cheap, too.

By anon958702 — On Jun 29, 2014

This morning I got stomach pains and I immediately started to vomit. Does anyone know why? I am completely terrified of vomiting because it hurts. I am only 11 and my parents are mystified.

By anon349514 — On Sep 26, 2013

My sister keeps on throwing up a ton and passing out and it is making me nervous. What can I give her to help her because it's for almost a week straight that this has been happening.

By anon337012 — On Jun 02, 2013

I've been suffering from a very severe vomiting phobia. I'm only 14 myself, and finding it very hard to deal with. It seems like it all started when I was about two years old and I was on a plane for the first time ever and it was a late night, early morning flight and I was sick.

Ever since then, I've been terrified to go on a plane and not long from now I'm going on holiday abroad and I'm terrified that the same thing will happen. Any advice on what it could have been?

By anon312327 — On Jan 06, 2013

My son is five years old and vomited a few minutes ago. I asked him what he ate at his father's house, and his response was garlic. He also had a burger, fries and ketchup. I gave him plenty of water after he rinsed his mouth. After that happened, he told me he was really hungry, but I'm afraid to feed him. I'm afraid he'll vomit. What do I need to do to settle his stomach?

By everetra — On Jun 06, 2011

@nony - Dizziness causes include vertigo as well. I had this condition for a number of years. I don’t know if it was low blood sugar, or as is sometimes thought these days, problems with the inner ear. However the doctors couldn’t figure it out and it was sometimes scary to be standing still for a few moments and then suddenly go dizzy and think you’re about to collapse.

Eventually the situation resolved itself. It may in fact have been low blood sugar. Shortly thereafter I tried to “beef up” my diet some more and had no more occurrences. I did other things as well, like take vitamin supplements, so I don’t know which of these two lifestyle changes did the trick.

By nony — On Jun 05, 2011

@MrMoody - I remember the first time I went out with my family deep sea fishing. I was okay when the boat was in motion, but the moment it stopped, and started rocking back and forth, I got sick right away. I was hit with a headache, vomiting and dizziness.

I was given all sorts of advice on what to do to beat the symptoms, like look at the horizon, lie down, etc., but nothing seemed to work. It was that swaying, constant back and forth that made me sick. Like your situation, there was nothing bacterial about it, it was just upset stomach.

On subsequent deep sea fishing trips I took some over the counter medication specifically for motion sickness; well, it worked, but not without first knocking me out. After I got up I felt better though and could endure the trip. I was still glad when the boat got moving again.

By MrMoody — On Jun 04, 2011

Nausea is a symptom that precedes sudden vomiting too, not just something that results from it. My daughter was on an international flight some time ago and she complained that the closed spaces and the smell of the airplane air made her sick.

It didn’t affect me at all but when she got off the plane she did run off to the bathroom and vomit. I don’t think it was bacterial in nature; it was just something about the smell. I couldn’t really put my finger on it, I just had to recognize it and made sure she got plenty of water and opportunities to nap on international flights.

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