What are the Most Common Causes of Upset Stomach and Vomiting?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

There is a long list of things that may cause a person to experience an upset stomach and vomiting. Commonly, a person develops these symptoms because he has food poisoning or has contracted a virus that causes gastrointestinal symptoms. Other common causes include pregnancy and motion sickness. Even emotional upset and stress are among the most common causes of stomach problems.

Some people get an upset stomach after riding amusement park rides.
Some people get an upset stomach after riding amusement park rides.

Food poisoning is a common condition a person may contract after eating or drinking contaminated food or drink. It can be caused by the presence of bacteria, viruses, and parasites in food. Sometimes it is even caused by food that is contaminated with a toxic substance, such as mushrooms that are not edible. Food poisoning causes such symptoms as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain and cramping. Most cases of food poisoning are unpleasant but rather mild; they often resolve themselves after a couple of days.

A diagram of the stomach and duodenum.
A diagram of the stomach and duodenum.

Viral illnesses, such as stomach viruses, can also cause upset stomach and vomiting. Interestingly, a stomach virus doesn’t really develop in a person’s stomach at all. Instead, it typically affects a person’s intestine and simply causes symptoms that involve his stomach. Like food poisoning, a stomach virus can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramping of the abdominal region; sometimes a fever is present as well.

Food poisoning can cause upset stomach and vomiting.
Food poisoning can cause upset stomach and vomiting.

Some people also develop an upset stomach because of motion sickness. For example, some people develop motion sickness when they ride in cars or on boats. Others may get sick on amusement park rides as well. In fact, some may even develop vomiting that is related to motion sickness because they are anticipating movement that will make them sick.

Eating small portions of starchy foods, like pretzels, may alleviate morning sickness symptoms.
Eating small portions of starchy foods, like pretzels, may alleviate morning sickness symptoms.

Pregnancy is also among the most common causes of an upset stomach and vomiting. Many women experience morning sickness, which is marked by nausea and vomiting, while they are pregnant. Morning sickness can occur at all times of the day, not just during the morning. Some pregnant women are more prone to it when they are just getting out of the bed and have empty stomachs, however.

Food poisoning often causes stomach cramping and vomiting.
Food poisoning often causes stomach cramping and vomiting.

While many of these causes are physical, it is also possible to have an upset stomach because of emotional upset. Some people feel nauseated when they are under extreme emotional stress, and the emotional upset may sometimes progress to vomiting. Additionally, symptoms such as diarrhea and abdominal cramping can be related to emotional stress as well.

Eating mushrooms that contain toxins can cause upset stomach and vomiting.
Eating mushrooms that contain toxins can cause upset stomach and vomiting.
A stomach virus may result in fever, cramps, and vomiting.
A stomach virus may result in fever, cramps, and vomiting.
Drinking too much alcohol might cause vomiting.
Drinking too much alcohol might cause vomiting.
Diarrhea and stomach cramping may be caused by emotional stress.
Diarrhea and stomach cramping may be caused by emotional stress.
Intestinal inflammation may cause upset stomach and vomiting.
Intestinal inflammation may cause upset stomach and vomiting.
Contaminated drinking way can result in vomiting.
Contaminated drinking way can result in vomiting.
An upset stomach can be caused by high levels of anxiety.
An upset stomach can be caused by high levels of anxiety.
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments

candyquilt

When I have vomiting a few hours after I eat, I always get worried that it might be food poisoning. I had food poisoning twice in the past year from fast food. Sometimes I don't have a lot of money and fast food is the cheapest. But now I hesitate to buy fast food because of the risk of food poisoning. If the restaurant is run well and the food is maintained properly, it doesn't occur.

Also, if I pick up food from outside, I make sure to eat it the same day. Left-overs are more problematic, especially if they're kept somewhere warm for a few hours. So if I have food left over from lunch, I try to store it in the fridge immediately and finish it at dinner. Otherwise, I know that it has probably gone bad. There are so many preservatives in foods these days that even though a food has bacteria, it may smell and look okay. So I don't take a risk when it comes to left-overs.

ysmina

@turquoise-- You are so right about antibiotics. Many medications can cause gastrointestinal upset. Antibiotics are on top of the list. I've heard of quite a few people experiencing nausea, vomiting and diarrhea from antibiotics.

turquoise

I had terrible motion sickness last month. I think it was due to the antibiotics I had to take for an infection. I was on high doses of antibiotics and I've read that some antibiotics can affect the inner ear. Of course, nausea and vomiting are side effects of antibiotics themselves. But the fact that I only experienced them while in the car or metro makes me think that it was inner-ear related.

After my course of antibiotics got over, the upset stomach and vomiting while in moving vehicles disappeared altogether. I was embarrassed a few times though because I had to vomit in a bag while in the metro. People must have thought I was pregnant or something.

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