Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome

Question: I’m frightened for my child. He will be just fine, and then all of a sudden he throws up and complains about pain in his stomach and bad headaches. The doctor says he has cyclic vomiting syndrome. I’ve never heard of this problem. Do you have information?

  • Definition: What is cyclic vomiting syndrome?
    • Cyclic vomiting syndrome is usually found in children between 2 and 16, although some adults have received the diagnosis as well. CVS is not very common, and so far researchers have no definite explanations.
    • Symptoms include recurrent episodes of stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and headaches. During an episode, which often appears without warning, the person can do little else but be miserable. Often s/he is bothered by bright light.
    • Vomiting occurs frequently, up to 10 or more times per hour. Episodes last from a few hours up to several days. People afflicted with CVS are usually well and normal between episodes.
  • What causes cyclic vomiting syndrome?
    • Researchers are not sure. They do not even know if it is a problem primarily of the brain or gut. Current thinking speculates it may be caused by some sort of neurologic malfunction or flawed stress-hormone activity.
    • Because migraine headache sufferers report the same cluster of symptoms (nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and light sensitivity), the two problems may share common mechanisms.
  • What is the treatment for cyclic vomiting syndrome?
    • CVS is currently treated with amitriptyline or cyproheptadine.
    • Both these medications are also used to prevent migraine headaches, and so far they seem to work for CVS as well.
    • Anecdotal reports suggest some success with Imitrex and low-dose beta blockers. Ask your physician for an opinion.
  • Please note
    • CVS is not an eating disorder in the same way that anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are. CVS seems to lack an emotional or psychological component. There is no evidence to suggest it is anything but a physiological/neurological problem. We include this page on our Website because we receive many questions about CVS from concerned parents and sufferers.