Vomiting and regurgitation: when should I seek help?

22nd February 2024

Illustrated woman wearing a jumper, skirt and hijab holds her hand up to her mouth. She grimaces in pain.Digestive symptoms can be confusing and overwhelming. You may not know when to ask for help or where to turn. Today, we’re talking you through the differences between vomiting and regurgitation, and what symptoms to look out for with digestive conditions.

What’s the difference between regurgitation and vomiting?

  • Vomiting (being sick) is a forceful evacuation of stomach contents, with retching, that travels fast and cannot be held up in the mouth.
  • Regurgitation of food typically occurs within minutes after a meal but can continue for 1-2 hours after meals, with both liquids and solid foods. The food is not sour, bitter or acidic in taste, as it is undigested. It is often described as similar in taste to the food that has just been swallowed. The person then makes a conscious decision whether to swallow or expel the food.

Achalasia (regurgitation)

Achalasia is a condition that affects the nerves and muscles of the oesophagus (food pipe). Achalasia hinders the passage of food and liquid that travels down the oesophagus and enters the stomach. Symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Regurgitation of food (bringing food back up).
  • Choking or coughing that may lead to chest infections if the food goes back down the wrong way and into the lungs.
  • Food that may feel like it is stuck in the oesophagus after eating, causing chest discomfort or pain.
  • Weight loss.

If these symptoms seem familiar to you, read more here.

Rumination syndrome (regurgitation)

Rumination syndrome is the chronic (long-term) repetitive, effortless regurgitation of recently swallowed food back into the mouth. For rumination syndrome to be diagnosed, all the following must be fulfilled for the last three months, with symptom onset at least six months prior to diagnosis:

  • Persistent or recurrent regurgitation of recently digested food into the mouth.
  • Retching doesn’t occur before regurgitation.
  • No evidence of inflammatory (inflammation), anatomic (structural abnormality), metabolic or neoplastic (cancer) process that explains someone’s symptoms.

If these symptoms seem familiar to you, read more here.

Gastroparesis (vomiting)

Gastroparesis is a condition that affects the stomach – meaning stomach (gastro) paralysis (paresis). It is a chronic (long lasting) disorder where the stomach does not empty the contents in a normal way. Symptoms can include:

  • Nausea (feeling sick).
  • Vomiting.
  • Vomiting undigested food hours after eating.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Feeling full after a few mouthfuls of a normal sized meal.
  • Bloating.
  • Belching.
  • Weight loss.

If these symptoms seem familiar to you, read more here.

Barrett's oesophagus (regurgitation)

Barrett’s oesophagus is where the normal cells lining the oesophagus (food pipe) are replaced with abnormal cells. This is caused by acid reflux damaging the oesophagus over time. Symptoms can include:

  • Acid reflux.
  • Heartburn.
  • Pain in the upper abdomen.
  • Nausea.
  • Regurgitation of food.
  • People may also have a metallic taste in the mouth, or a chronic sore throat.

If these symptoms seem familiar to you, read more here.

Eosinophilic oesophagitis (vomiting)

Eosinophilic diseases are often found in those with a family history of allergic diseases such as rhinitis, asthma and/or eczema. Symptoms can vary from one person to another and depend on age. Symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Vomiting.
  • Heartburn.
  • Reduced appetite.
  • Poor weight gain in children.
  • A feeling of food getting ‘stuck’ in the oesophagus.

If these symptoms seem familiar to you, read more here.

Know when to seek help:

Illustrated woman with red hair wearing a jumper, trousers is holding her stomach. She looks disheartened.It is important you seek proper medical advice to get the correct diagnosis. Symptoms can vary from one person to another and depend on age.

If you experience any of the below symptoms, please contact your doctor.

  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Food getting stuck in your oesophagus.
  • A persistent heartburn for over 3 weeks that doesn’t change with over-the-counter medication.
  • Vomiting frequently.
  • Unintentional weight loss.
  • Feeling full after a few mouthfuls of a normal sized meal.

We’re here to help:

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