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Hard to Stomach: The Challenge of Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome

Cyclic vomiting syndrome has been the root of many individuals’ suffering, throwing them into bouts of constant draining nausea.

What is CVS?

Though first characterized in 1882, cyclic vomiting syndrome (CVS) is often confused with stomach flu or food poisoning, leading to misdiagnoses until careful review of a patient’s history and labs.

The disorder tends to affect more women than men. It can begin at any age from childhood to adulthood, and last anywhere from months to decades.

What are the symptoms?

While some patients don’t experience triggers, many others have reported instances that bring about an episode. Particular foods or anesthetics may act as triggers, but more commonly patients have suffered due to colds, flu’s and other infections, intense excitement (birthdays, holidays, vacations) and during emotional stress and menstrual periods.

Episodes occur at frequent intervals, lasting for hours or days (1-4), with a return to normal health between attacks. They typically start during the early morning, but may begin at any time, with patients experiencing a range of symptoms:

  • Relentless nausea
  • Repeated bouts of vomiting or retching
  • Pale demeanor, listless
  • Drooling or spitting
  • Extreme thirst
  • Intense abdominal pains
  • Some headache, low-grade fever and diarrhea
  • Mild esophageal bleeding due to irritation from prolonged vomiting
  • Dehydration

What are my treatment options?

Though CVS hasn’t been eradicated, its treatment is focused on support, with importance placed on early intervention.

A dark, quiet environment is crucial for sleep, and hospitalization and an IV-drip may be necessary for replacing fluids. Medication trials have often found success in preventing, shortening or stopping episodes.

In the long term, management of episodes involves a sustained, responsive relationship between a doctor, patient and family, sensitive to stresses caused by the illness and to triggers that pre-dispose to attacks. An accessible, understanding, CVS-sensitive care coordinator is vital to the family and patient’s well-being. 

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