What is cyclic vomiting syndrome (CVS)?

Updated: Oct 31, 2018
  • Author: Thangam Venkatesan, MD; Chief Editor: Carmen Cuffari, MD  more...
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Cyclic vomiting syndrome (CVS), first described in children by Samuel Gee in 1882, is a chronic functional disorder of unknown etiology that is characterized by paroxysmal, recurrent episodes of vomiting.

The pathophysiology is unknown (see Pathophysiology and Etiology), but data suggest a strong genetic component in children with CVS, with evidence of mitochondrial heteroplasmies that predispose to CVS and other related disorders (eg, migraine and chronic fatigue syndrome). Other theories include autonomic dysfunction and, possibly, corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) because stress is known to be a trigger for these episodes. The possible role of cannabis in causing CVS has been examined, though it remains controversial.

CVS is characterized by recurrent, discrete, stereotypical episodes of rapid-fire vomiting between varying periods of completely normal health (see Presentation). This on-and-off stereotypical pattern of vomiting is nearly pathognomonic.

Because no biochemical markers for CVS have been identified, physicians must initially look for alarming symptoms and then tailor the subsequent workup accordingly (see Workup). Depending on the presenting symptoms and signs other than vomiting, different diagnostic approaches are recommended. In the absence of known pathophysiology, treatment of CVS remains empiric (see Treatment).

For ongoing support and information, families are encouraged to contact the Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome Association, which is an international voluntary organization that serves the needs of patients in the United States and Canada.

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