Nausea and Vomiting…
We are constantly being harassed and bombarded by invaders: allergens and “stuff” in the air that are trying to get a foothold in us and cause problems. One of our first lines of defense is to simply expel these invaders and send them back to where they came from. These defenses consist of sneezing, to blow them out of our nose; coughing, to rid our lungs of the pests; having bouts of diarrhea to clear out our intestinal tract; and vomiting, to empty the stomach and upper small intestine.
Sneezing, coughing, and diarrhea can be a bit of nuisance, but nausea and vomiting are things we would all like to avoid.
Two of the most common symptoms associated with illness and stress are nausea and vomiting. Their causes are many and include infections, viruses, food poisoning, appendicitis, and peritonitis, as well as motion sickness, intestinal blockage, concussion, migraines, and anxiety. These symptoms can also indicate very serious life-threatening illnesses such as a heart attack, meningitis, encephalitis, kidney disease, liver disease, brain tumors, or cancer.
Nausea is that vague uneasy sensation that you are going to vomit. Vomiting is the action by which the stomach contents are expelled out of the mouth. The sensation of nausea and the action of vomiting are controlled by the vomiting center in the brain, the Area Postrema.
The Area Postrema receives signals from four locales around the body. Three are in the gastrointestinal tract: the mouth, stomach, and intestines. These react to taste, as well as toxins in food which can cause food poisoning. The fourth locale is the brain, which constantly monitors the bloodstream for the chemicals of infections as well as certain medications that can cause nausea and vomiting.
The vestibular (balance) apparatus in the ears, when out of kilter, can also cause dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. And the brain can even induce nausea and vomiting from unpleasant sights, smells, and even thoughts.
Nausea and vomiting are symptoms of an underlying problem. Fortunately, the problem is usually benign and self-limiting. The primary concerns are the risks of dehydration from not drinking and electrolyte depletion from vomiting. If associated with diarrhea, the loss of electrolytes becomes an even greater risk. How do you get fluids into someone who is nauseous and throwing up?
The Principles of Managing Nausea and Vomiting
Try to prevent dehydration by taking small sips of a clear fluid often. This is preferred to drinking a larger volume less frequently because an upset stomach will only tolerate small amounts of fluid. Drink liquids such as water, ginger ale, fruit juices, or electrolyte drinks like Gatorade. Cold fluids are tolerated better than hot fluids.
Electrolyte solutions are commonly referred to as oral rehydration solutions and they contain small amounts of sugar (carbohydrates), salt (sodium and chloride), and potassium. Electrolytes are charged ions in the blood and tissues are that responsible for nerve and cardiac electrical impulses, muscle contraction, and gates or channels in cell membranes. They are vital. The most important electrolytes are sodium, potassium, chloride, and calcium, and depletion of these will affect homeostasis (the ability to maintain stable internal physiological conditions).
Remedies for Nausea
Dilute solutions of a ginger, peppermint, or chamomile tea will help to control nausea.
Over-The-Counter (OTC) Medications
Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate) will help to calm the stomach and control diarrhea. Pepto-Bismol cannot be used in someone who is allergic to aspirin. It should also not be used in children and teenagers younger than 18 years old if there is a chance that the illness is associated with viral influenza or chickenpox, due to the risk of Reye’s Syndrome, a life threatening encephalopathy.
OTC antihistamines such as dimenhydrinate, diphenhydramine, and meclizine may help with nausea and vomiting caused by motion sickness.
Prescription Drugs for Nausea and Vomiting
A variety of medications for nausea and vomiting are used depending on the underlying diagnosis and cause. Two of the most common drugs for treating nausea and vomiting are Phenergan and Compazine. Both are available as suppositories so they will not contribute to the problem of nausea.
- Phenergan (promethazine) suppository 25mg, one per rectum every 12 hours as needed for nausea and vomiting.
- Compazine (prochlorperazine) suppository 5mg, one per rectum every 12 hours as needed for nausea and vomiting.
Once the patient is feeling better and their appetite has returned, advance the diet slowly with small quantities of bland food, such as the BRAT diet – Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast. Avoid greasy, hard-to-digest foods for 24 hours.
When to Seek Help
The vast majority of the time the causes of nausea and vomiting are benign and self-limiting. However, it is time to seek help if the nausea and vomiting are associated with:
- a fever greater than 102.5°F/39°C
- a change in level of consciousness
- seizure activity
- bright red blood or digested blood (the latter looks like coffee grounds) in the vomitus
- vomiting that is frequent and copious and causes the patient to become progressively dehydrated symptoms lasting more than 24 hours that are not easily controlled.