Throwing up Water – What are the causes?

Throwing up water means vomiting water. Vomiting refers to expulsion of contents of stomach through the mouth. Vomiting can be persistent or acute.

Vomit typically contains saliva, pancreatic and stomach digestive juices and enzymes, undigested or partially digested food, bile, stomach acids, digestive tract water, and mucus occurring in stomach, small intestine, mouth, and esophagus.

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When vomit contains just water, then it can be called throwing up water. It can occur due to varied reasons, including prolonged fasting or starvation, or chronic and frequent vomiting that has resulted in removal of all hard matter from the digestive tract and water is all that remains.

Causes of throwing up water

People may throw up water for the reasons similar to vomiting. Some of the common causes of throwing up water are listed below:

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  • Food intolerance: It is a condition wherein the body is unable to process and digest certain kinds of food. Patients may suffer from a variety of symptoms, including throwing up water, bloating, gas, etc.
    • Two of the most common types of food intolerance are lactose intolerance, i.e., inability of body to digest sugars present in milk and dairy products, and gluten intolerance, i.e., inability of body to process gluten which is found in grains like wheat, barley, rye, etc.
    • It may also be noted that toxins or irritants present in certain foods may harm the digestive tract and cause a temporary case of indigestion marked by nausea, throwing up water, etc. Some of these culprit foods are mushroom, castor oil, chalk, shellfish, and ciguatera fish, etc.
  • Malabsorption syndrome: It is similar to food intolerance, but with malabsorption syndromes, the body is unable to absorb certain nutrients present in food.
    • For example, fructose malabsorption is marked by inability of body to absorb fruit sugars. Another one is malabsorption of sorbitol which occurs in artificial sweeteners, diet drinks, etc.
  • Motion sickness: In this, any kind of movement can trigger adverse symptoms like nausea, throwing up water, headache, dizziness, etc.
    • Motion sickness occurs when contradicting messages are transmitted for detecting motion. People with hypersensitivity to motion may experience the adverse symptoms even with a short ride in a car. However, most patients are more tolerant of movements and may suffer from motion sickness only when on a boat during rough weather.
  • Food poisoning: Consumption of water or food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, or other microorganisms can result in throwing up water along with other symptoms like headache, nausea, diarrhea, etc. Vomiting associated with food poisoning is usually caused due to irritation of the intestinal lining by toxins produced by the pathogens.
    • One of the most common examples of food-borne ailment is gastroenteritis. Affected people often vomit water.
  • Migraines: It is another common cause of throwing up water, nausea, and other symptoms. The condition is related to changes that occur in the brain and its complex interaction with ache/pain. Treatment of migraines with medicines also resolves vomiting.
  • Eating disorders: Vomiting is usually intentional in persons affected by bulimia and other eating disorders. However, digestive tract changes can occur in patients due to altered food consumption habits, which can then heighten its sensitivity to consumption of food and trigger unintentional instances of throwing up water or food. Sometimes, patients spontaneously vomit after forcibly eating food.
  • Alcohol abuse: Drinking alcohol in large quantities may cause the person to throw up water. Some individuals with low tolerance to alcohol may vomit water after drinking just one peg. Peptic ulcer and gastritis patients also have low tolerance levels for alcohol.
  • Medications: Nausea is a side effect of most medicines. Sometime, the nausea can be so intense that it can cause instances of throwing up water. Certain drugs irritate the digestive tract and cause vomiting, while some others stimulate the chemoreceptor trigger zone/CTZ area of brain which consequently causes the vomit areas of the brain to become active.
    • Laxatives, NSAIDs, antibiotics, narcotics, proton pump inhibitors, certain antacids, and chemotherapy cytotoxic agents are some medications that commonly induce watery vomit.
  • Bowel obstructions: Intestinal blockages can trap food and cause upper bowel distention and/or irritation of the intestines. These may then trigger a case of throwing up water and/or food
  • Cyclic vomiting syndrome: This condition is marked by repetitive and persistent episodes of throwing up. It usually affects children and often resolves without medical treatment. However, vomiting recurs after a few weeks or months. The causes of cyclic vomiting syndrome are not known as yet.
  • Other causes: People may also suffer from a case of throwing up water due to causes such as pregnancy, plant poisoning, drinking chlorinated water, smoking, insect bites, vigorous exercising, kidney failure, uremia, diabetic ketoacidosis, hepatitis, traumatic head injury, pancreatitis, and elevated pressure on stomach or hanging upside down after eating.

Treatment of throwing up water

  • Watery vomit caused by bacterial infections is treated with antibiotics. Other cases are treated as per underlying cause.
  • Home remedies include intake of ginger-basil tea, milk with cardamom-honey-cumin paste, orange and lemon juice, warm cinnamon-cloves solution, ginger-apple juice, mint juice, and peppermint.
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