Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome: Symptoms, Risks, and Treatment Options

Vomiting, the dreaded symptom of sickness, can be very discouraging when it comes without warning or reason. Experiencing the same dreaded monthly or even weekly bouts of vomiting evokes feelings of despair. Continue reading to learn if you may suffer from cyclic vomiting syndrome.

Key takeaways:

What is cyclic vomiting syndrome?

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Cyclic vomiting syndrome (CVS) is a functional gastrointestinal disorder. This means there is a problem with how the brain and gut interact. Something is lost in translation between the GI tract and the nervous system.

Some other examples of functional gastrointestinal disorders are irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and functional constipation. Since vomiting is a symptom of an underlying cause, rather than a disease, diagnosis and treatment can be difficult.

What does cyclic vomiting feel like?

People with CVS will experience sudden, repeated episodes of severe nausea and vomiting. Sometimes these episodes last merely hours, and other times they last days. The thing that is distinctive about CVS is that vomiting is interrupted with periods of wellness and relief.

Often, the episodes are similar in duration and intensity. This means the vomiting starts around the same time of day, lasts about the same amount of time, and is accompanied by similar symptoms.

Diagnosing cyclic vomiting syndrome

As previously mentioned, diagnosing CVS is difficult since vomiting is a symptom caused by many different illnesses. Secondly, cyclic vomiting disorder has no definitive cause. In the past, it was thought to be primarily an illness of children. However, the recent rise of diagnoses in adults has proven otherwise.

Though CVS affects all age groups, signs of this syndrome typically begin between 3–7 years of age. Interestingly, CVS is most commonly noted within the Caucasian community with 6 out of 10 diagnoses being people of Caucasian ethnicity.

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Symptoms of cyclic vomiting syndrome

Diagnosis of CVS is done by a medical professional. However, some symptoms to take note of are:

  • Three or more similar vomiting episodes with no known cause
  • Vomiting episodes that are interrupted by intervals of wellness
  • Intense nausea and sweating preceding periods of vomiting

Though accompanying symptoms are not always present, people who have CVS may also experience the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Headache
  • Retching or dry heaves

People with CVS may also have:

There are some common conditions that people with CVS also have:

Who is at risk for cyclic vomiting syndrome?

Not only is ethnicity a risk factor, but certain past medical or family history, along with other health complications, may be predisposing factors that increase likelihood of experiencing CVS. People who are at risk of CVS often have the following in their medical history:

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  • Personal or family history of migraines
  • Marijuana use
  • Tendency of motion sickness

How do you stop cyclic vomiting?

Since the cause of CVS is undetermined, treatment is difficult. However, lifestyle changes and prevention interventions are the first things to be considered. Keeping a journal of emotions, foods, and circumstances that precede the episodes is important not only for you but also for helping inform your provider.

It may be important to note when the vomiting begins and ends, how long the vomiting episodes and wellness intervals last, and how CVS impacts your quality of life. In many cases, anti-nausea medications or migraine treatment have proven to be a major help in restoring quality of life.

Does CVS ever go away?

With lifestyle changes, CVS can go away. However, since the cause of cyclic vomiting is not completely understood, the syndrome can also last a lifetime. Though vomiting is an unpleasant occurrence, vomiting in and of itself is not normally disconcerting. With CVS, quality of life is of primary importance. With work, school, and home life suffering, relief from vomiting is of utmost importance. Talk to your doctor about lifestyle changes that can help alleviate CVS.

Complications of CVS

Dehydration prevention is of primary importance while in the middle of a bout of vomiting. Though adequate water consumption is vital during periods of vomiting, it is also vital in the prevention of dehydration. Extra fluid intake helps prevent imbalances within the body. Electrolyte drinks, coconut water, or good, old-fashioned H2O are great options. Avoid caffeinated beverages as they increase fluid loss.

With the persistent reversal of gastric contents and gastric acid, people with CVS may also experience esophagitis. Esophagitis is the inflammation of the esophagus. Your throat may feel swollen, sore, and irritated. This condition can exasperate fluid deficiency.

Lastly, with excess vomiting, saliva is unable to adequately neutralize the regurgitated stomach acids. This causes a low pH in the mouth, and the teeth are at risk for enamel erosion. Since persistent vomiting is known to soften tooth enamel and increase dental erosion, rinse rather than brush after vomiting.

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When to call your doctor

Excessive fluid loss is the most important thing to monitor with CVS. Vomiting can quickly lead to dehydration and hospitalization. Dehydration is a low level of water in the body. Since all cells within the body are dependent on water for survival, low levels of water can have devastating implications.
Signs of dehydration include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Dark urine
  • Dry mouth
  • Sunken eyes
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Decreased urine output

Cyclic vomiting syndrome continues to be a mystery, even to many healthcare providers. With incidences of CVS on the rise, research is advancing. Though a definitive cure is unknown at this time, talking to your medical provider about treatment options could definitely improve your quality of life.

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