What Are the Causes of Dry Heaves?

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Dry heaves occur after nausea and vomiting. Dry heaves refer to repetitive involuntary throwing up that is not accompanied by vomit. Nausea stimulates the region of the brain that controls vomiting. Even after the vomiting has halted, the brain’s vomit center may be active. This leads to continuation of abdominal musculature contractions without expelling gastric contents, causing dry heaves. Prolonged dry heaves are serious and require immediate medical attention as they may be indicative of intracranial pressure.

How Are Dry Heaves Different From Nausea and Vomiting?

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Dry heaves are different from nausea, which is the uneasy feeling in the stomach. Nausea is usually followed by vomiting, wherein there is expulsion of the stomach contents through the mouth. Expulsion of mucous is not vomit; vomit comes from the stomach. Dry heaves, on the other hand, refers to retching without vomit expulsion, and they usually occur after the contents of the stomach have been vomited up. A person may also experience nauseous feelings with dry heaves.


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Since dry heaves follow nausea and vomiting, causes of vomiting can also be considered their inducers. These causes include gastritis, bowel obstruction, overeating, ileus, pancreatitis, appendicitis, hepatitis, brain tumors, migraines, metabolic disturbances, drug reactions, alcohol and high intracranial pressure, to name a few.

Food poisoning and an empty stomach lead to dry heaves. Anxiety triggers nervous reactions in the body, dry mouth and dry heaves. Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar triggers vomiting and dry heaves.

Morning dry heaves are caused when acid reflux induces vomiting in the morning. Acid reflux causes acidic gastric juices to travel back to the esophagus from the stomach.

Pregnant women often throw up and have dry heaves when they brush their teeth, when they smell certain aromas, see or eat certain foods or hear about certain things. Certain movements can also trigger dry heaves in pregnant women.


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Besides the repeated attempts at throwing up without any vomit expulsion, dry heaves are often accompanied by symptoms such as a dry mouth and throat. Patients also experience sweating, a high pulse rate and, at times, dizziness, too. Other symptoms of dry heaves are restlessness, a bad taste in the mouth, loss of appetite, heavy breathing, choking and coughing, and stomach pains. Some patients have also experienced back pains during dry heaves.


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Usually dry heaves stop on their own after some time as your system calms down. Dramamine is an over-the-counter drug that can be used to cure dry heaves but individuals should consult their doctor before taking this drug. If the dry heaves continue for more than two hours, you must visit a doctor for a prescription antinauseant that calms the vomit center of the brain to stop both vomiting and dry heaves. Pregnant women must consult a doctor before taking any antinausea medication.


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Pregnant women can reduce dry heaves by not allowing the stomach to be empty at any time. This implies that they should eat small light meals all day instead of a few heavy meals. They should avoid foods, smells and other factors that trigger nausea and dry heaves as much as possible. People other than pregnant women should also have regular meals with adequate carbohydrates to prevent being hypoglycemic. Eat healthfully and free yourself from stress and anxiety by engaging in relaxing activities.