Digestive Health

Updated 05 August 2014

What’s making you puke?

Nausea and vomiting are your body’s way of getting your attention. Here are some of the most common causes.


Nausea and vomiting are your body’s way of getting your attention. Here are some of the most common causes.

Been looking into the mouth of the toilet bowl all night, or swallowing a constant feeling of low level nausea? Your body’s trying to get rid of something and send you a message too. While possible causes are many, they fall into these basic categories:

It’s something you ate or drank

You’ll probably have an inkling why your stomach is rebelling if you scarfed down a dodgy prawn curry, or pretended not to notice that your steak had gone past ripe to reeking. Food poisoning is caused by bacteria, viruses, chemicals, toxins or parasites that get into your body via contaminated food. In some cases food poisoning can be severe or even fatal, so don’t mess around if the symptoms are severe or long-lasting – get a doctor to help you through.

Then of course there’s that queasy morning after a long night of tequila slammers. You’ve poisoned your body with alcohol, and your body is responding by offering the poison the nearest exit.

It’s something on your mind

Bulimia is an eating disorder in which the sufferer makes themselves vomit in a bid to control weight. Anxiety, shock, pain, unpleasant smells and revolting images can sometimes trigger nausea or vomiting without needing another physical cause.

It’s where you are

Buffeted by a storm in a small aircraft made for two? Motion sickness affects people differently, and for some even the shortest car or bus ride can be an ordeal. It’s caused by a disturbance in your sense of balance, and children are particularly prone to it.

It’s a boy! (Or a girl)

If every morning starts with a wave of nausea, and certain smells just turn your stomach but you feel well otherwise, you could possibly be suffering from morning sickness, a common side effect of pregnancy. It’s easy enough to find out – most pharmacies carry home pregnancy tests and it only takes a minute or two.

It’s the treatment

Some medications may cause nausea, from strong painkillers like morphine, to hormonal treatments or iron supplements. Chemotherapy treatments for some types of cancer may cause nausea and vomiting, as can some types of radiotherapy.

It’s something else

There’s a long list of possible medical causes of nausea and vomiting. Among them: peptic ulcer, stomach cancer, gut obstruction, appendicitis, mesenteric adenitis, cholecystitis, hepatitis, cirrhosis, heart problems, migraine, stroke, brain tumours, cerebral hypoxia, epilepsy, urinary tract infections, hyperthyroidism, porphyria, pyloric stenosis and more.

In other words, if you have long periods of nausea or severe vomiting, it’s best to visit your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment of any underlying problem.

Get a more detailed look at the causes and treatment of vomiting.

(Health24, Adele Hamilton, November 2011)


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Digestive Health Expert

Dr. Estelle Wilken is a Senior Specialist in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at Tygerberg Hospital. She obtained her MBChB in 1976, her MMed (Int) in 1991 and her gastroenterology registration in 1995.

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