Throwing up is a violent reflex used to rid the body of noxious agents. It is sometimes a symptom of a serious disease or injury such as a brain tumor or brain trauma. Unfortunately, vomiting itself can also cause serious injury due to its violent force and the corrosive effects of gastric acid.
Throwing up happens after a special area of the brain, called the vomiting center, is alerted that something is amiss in the body. Many chemicals, hormones (such as in pregnancy), tastes, smells and pathogens can trigger this alert. The brain then signals the body to vomit in response to the stimuli.
Vomit can be accidentally inhaled, which can cause pneumonia or even choking and death. People under the influence of alcohol or other sedatives have a greater risk of choking to death because those drugs relax the throat and airway. Esophageal tears and bleeding are also side effects of frequent or intense throwing up. Additionally, and seriously, severe vomiting may rupture the esophagus, which can be fatal. Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance occur after intense, prolonged vomiting. This imbalance can lead to shock and death if left untreated.
Throwing up is one way the body rids itself of toxic bacteria and chemicals. In cases of accidental or intentional overdose of pills, vomiting can save a person’s life.
Habitually throwing up, as happens with bulimia sufferers, destroys the esophageal lining and tooth enamel, and it can cause stomach or esophageal bleeding. If electrolyte fluids are not replaced after frequent vomiting, an imbalance will occur that can cause serious harm to all organs, including the heart.
Vomiting can be self-induced or natural. Self-induced vomiting is caused by mechanically (via placing the finger or another object down the throat) irritating the gag reflex or by ingesting a vomit-inducing liquid, such as syrup of ipecac. When throwing up is not self-induced, the causes include pathogens, chemical toxins, vertigo, pregnancy, digestive tract obstruction, inflammation, severe pain, trauma associated with head injury or severe illness of any kind.
Vomit may contain food and gastric acid, bile, blood or even feces. Bile in vomit is common and shows up as green or yellow fluid. Blood can appear bright red or dark and grainy; call a doctor if you see blood in your vomit. Vomit that smells or looks like feces may contain feces. This is very serious, and you need to get immediate medical attention if it occurs. This could indicate a blockage or other serious health problem. Vomiting isn't simple regurgitation. Regurgitation is not violent like vomiting: undigested food simply comes back up the throat—not pleasant, but also not the painful, forceful expulsion of gastric contents that is called throwing up.