What Is Emesis? - Definition, Meaning & Significance

Instructor: Justine Fritzel

Justine has been a Registered Nurse for 10 years and has a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing degree.

Have you ever been nauseated and had your stomach contents expelled out of your mouth? In this lesson, we will learn about the meaning and significance of emesis.


We have all been there. That feeling in your stomach that is both pain and uneasiness at the same time. The feeling that you are going to get sick. The thought of food or water makes it worse. Then suddenly, you are bent over the toilet retching up stomach content.

Emesis is a medical term that means vomiting. Vomiting is when contents in your stomach come up and exit through your mouth. It is usually accompanied by nausea. Nausea is the feeling of having an upset stomach, and generally occurs before the actual vomiting. So why exactly do we vomit? It depends. Emesis can be associated with many different conditions.

Causes of Emesis

Nancy went out to for dinner last night at a Chinese restaurant with a friend. The next day, she was vomiting and could barely get out of bed. She wasn't sure if it was food poisoning or if she caught the sickness that her husband had a few days earlier.

Emesis is associated with a variety of illnesses. You have probably even experienced one of these illnesses, such as the stomach flu. Another example of an illness associated with vomiting is food poisoning. In food poisoning, bacteria are present that produce toxins. Vomiting occurs as a reaction to these toxins. There are other causes of vomiting that are not associated with illness though.

John is taking a boat ride to a small island. When he was young, he would often get car sick, but that was a long time ago, so he figured he outgrew it. Shortly after getting on the boat, he starts feeling sick to his stomach and before long, he is vomiting over the side of the boat.

John is experiencing motion sickness. Despite the name, it is not an actual illness, but it can very well cause vomiting. Motion sickness is generally related to an inner ear issue that affects balance and results in vomiting.

Another non-illness example is when a pregnant woman experiences emesis as a result of her increased hormones. Medications can cause vomiting as a side effect. In addition, the body may react to severe pain, stress, or even strong odors with emesis. Overeating and large intakes of alcohol can also result in vomiting as a mechanism for the body to eliminate excess intake.

Significance of Emesis

If you wake up tomorrow and are vomiting, how do you know what is causing it? First you should try to identify what other symptoms are occurring or what has happened in the last 12 hours. Do you have other symptoms such as fever, diarrhea, or muscle aches? This would likely indicate an illness. Or maybe you ate several hours ago, if so, it may be due to food poisoning. In food poisoning, the onset of vomiting after eating depends on what bacteria is the culprit. The symptoms of food poisoning could occur one to eight hours or longer after eating.

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