What can cause projectile vomiting?

Projectile vomiting is a condition that is classically associated with increased intracranial pressure, a congenital condition called hypertrophic pyloric stenosis, or a condition called gastric outlet obstruction. Projectile vomiting patients vomit the contents of their stomachs with great force, often causing the gastric contents to travel a significant distance after leaving the mouth. Any patient with severe vomiting should be sure to see a doctor or other healthcare professional to better determine the cause of the vomiting.

One of the most serious causes of projectile vomiting is increased intracranial pressure. The skull, made of bone, only contains a limited amount of space for its contents, including the brain, the linings of the brain, and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). A number of conditions can cause a pathological increase in pressure within the brain, including brain tumors, the presence of excess CSF, meningitis, encephalitis, or bleeding in the brain. The increased pressure inside the skull irritates the part of the brain that controls the vomiting process, stimulating affected patients to sudden and forceful vomiting. Other symptoms of increased intracranial pressure may include headaches, especially early in the morning, blurred vision, and confusion.

Young babies can be affected by a condition called hypertrophic pyloric stenosis, which is another classic cause of projectile vomiting. Babies typically develop this condition in the first few weeks of life, with symptoms including vomiting, weight loss, and poor sleep. It is a congenital condition in which the pyloric muscle of the stomach, which helps control the passage of food from the stomach to the intestines, overgrows and inhibits the proper passage of food. The condition is diagnosed either by feeling this enlarged muscle when palpating the abdomen, or by using ultrasound imaging. It is easily cured with surgery.

Adults and older children can also develop projectile vomiting if the flow of food from the stomach to the intestines is impeded. This condition is generally known as gastric outlet obstruction. It can develop as a result of gastric cancer, intestinal cancer, peptic ulcer disease, lymphoma, tuberculosis, hemochromatosis, and amyloidosis. Curing this condition depends on treating the underlying disease.

Although projectile vomiting is primarily related to the three conditions described above, other causes of vomiting can rarely cause this type. For example, viral gastroenteritis usually causes nonprojectile vomiting. However, in severe cases, the expulsion of the substance from the stomach could be particularly forceful and therefore projectile in nature.

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