Timothy C. Hain, MD Page last modified: November 17, 2012
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Cyclic vomiting consists of spells of uncontrollable vomiting, typically every two or three months (Fleisher et al, 1993). The vomiting can occasionally be so severe as to be lethal. The cause of this syndrome is not entirely certain, but may be migraine. Treatment with migraine prevention medications is sometimes useful as well as with general antiemetics.
CV is infrequent but not rare. In the author's practice, which largely includes adults with dizziness, it is encountered about 1/month (about 2% of caseload). It occurs both in adults and children (Aanpreung et al, 2002). It may occur in as many as 1.9% of school age children (Li et al, 2000). It's characteristics in adults and children are simlar (Prakash, 2001).
The cause of this syndrome is most commonly attributed to migraine. However there are many other theories (Forbes et al, 1995). Abnormal gastrointestional motility (low motility) can be found in persons with this syndrome even between vomiting spells (Abell et al, 1988). Higher than normal motility is found after eating (Chong et al, 1999). Cyclic vomiting can also occur in overshunted children (Coker et al, 1987). Occasional reports suggest a mitochondrial abnormality or a hypothalamic syndrome (similar to Klein Levin syndrome).
Cyclic vomiting is a diagnosis of exclusion. Most patients initially see a gastroenterologist where disorders such as reflux, gastric malrotation (volvulus) are excluded. In general, in about 40% of patients an underlying etiology is found ( Li et al, 1998), and in the majority of children, migraine is the presumed cause (Li et al, 1999)
According to Olson (2002), a upper GI/Small bowel follow-through followed by a trial of migraine prophylactic therapy is the most effective approach in children. The purpose of the UGSBF is to diagnose volvulus (gastrointestinal obstruction).
Treatment with migraine prevention medications is sometimes useful, as well as antiemetics. Typically patients are put on a migraine suppression medication (such as Verapamil), an antimetic (such as Phenergan), with supplementation during acute flareups.
Particularly useful migraine medications are:
(Aanpreung et al, 2003; Anderson et al, 1997; Benson et al, 1995; Forbes et al, 1995; Kothare et al, 2005; Hikita et al, 2012)
Many of these medications decrease gastrointestional motility, which would seem to contradict the idea that this condition is due to decreased motility. The author has not attempted treatment with topiramate, depakote or similar medications. Similarly, the author has had no experience with treatment of cyclic vomiting with venlafaxine, a very good migraine prevention medication. Treatment with other triptans than sumatriptan seems reasonable.
Particularly useful antiemetics are:
A general review of anti-emetic treatment can be found here.
The author has had no success at all using medications that increase gastrointestional motility (e.g. metoclopramide), but erythromycin is advocated by some( Vanderhoof et al, 1993). We have encountered one patient who responded to biaxin, a related medication.
Van Calcar et al (2002) reported that L-Carnitine (50 mg/kg) is an effective treatment. We have had no experience.
Anticonvulsants are not helpful in CV.
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