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Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome

written by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 9/30/2010

Cyclic vomiting syndrome is a frustrating condition that is difficult to diagnose. The symptoms of this condition can be caused by other medical problems, so doctors must rule out other causes before making a final diagnosis. Learn about cyclic vomiting syndrome in this article.

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    Cyclic vomiting syndrome is a condition characterized by cycles of nausea and vomiting. These cycles can last for several days, and alternate with periods of no nausea and vomiting.

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    Phases

    This condition has four phases. The first phase is a period of no nausea or vomiting that occurs between vomiting episodes. The prodrome phase is the second phase of this condition. This phase alerts the CVS sufferer that an episode is about to begin. This phase involves nausea and may also cause abdominal pain. If these symptoms are noticed early enough, it is possible to stop the episode from occurring by taking medication. In other cases, a person wakes up and starts vomiting with no warning. The third phase of this condition is the vomiting phase. This results in nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, drowsiness, fatigue, and an inability to take medication, eat, or drink without vomiting. During the fourth phase of CVS, symptoms disappear and the nausea and vomiting cease. This is known as the recovery phase.

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    Signs & Symptoms

    The most common signs and symptoms of cyclic vomiting syndrome are gagging, nausea and vomiting. Vomiting can occur as often as 12 times per hour. These vomiting episodes may last up to a week in adults. Children have approximately 12 episodes per year, while adult sufferers have an average of four per year. Other symptoms include headache, fever, abdominal pain, diarrhea, pale skin, exhaustion, and dizziness.

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    Risk Factors

    More research is needed to determine risk factors for this condition. The Mayo Clinic reports that current risk factors include a family history of migraines or experiencing migraines in adulthood. It is also possible that abdominal migraines, which usually occur in children, may contribute to the abdominal pain that occurs during vomiting episodes.

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    Dangers

    Repeated episodes of vomiting pose several dangers for those suffering from cyclic vomiting syndrome. Water is lost during vomiting, which increases the risk of electrolyte imbalance and dehydration. Vomiting also has the potential to damage the esophagus. The acid in the vomit may irritate the esophagus so much that it gets damaged or starts bleeding. Acid in vomit also causes the corrosion of tooth enamel, which leads to tooth decay.

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    Diagnosis

    Diagnosis of this condition can be difficult, because nausea and vomiting can be caused by so many other conditions. To be diagnosed with CVS, a person must experience at least three episodes of intense nausea and unstoppable vomiting within one year. These episodes must last for hours or days. Another criteria for diagnosis is that these episodes are separated by periods of no nausea, vomiting, or other symptoms. No test is available to diagnose this condition. Tests may be used to rule out other causes of vomiting, including bulimia, brain tumors, pregnancy, intestinal disorders, and inner ear problems.

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    Treatment

    No cure is available for this condition, but the symptoms can be treated during vomiting episodes. Pain relievers and migraine drugs are administered to treat abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. If dehydration occurs as the result of frequent vomiting, intravenous fluids can be administered in the hospital.

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    References

    National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. "Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome."

    Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome Association. "CVA: What is It?"