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Vomiting and Cerebral Palsy: Understanding Causes and Treatments

Pediatrician palpating stomach of little child with cerebral palsy who has been vomiting

Vomiting, stomach pain, and other digestive issues are common in children with cerebral palsy.

While sometimes these issues are minor and will resolve on their own, other times they could be a sign of something more serious.

Today you will learn more about the causes of vomiting in cerebral palsy patients. We’ll also discuss other common gastrointestinal problems associated with cerebral palsy and how to manage them.

Cerebral Palsy and Vomiting

According to a 1999 study on cerebral palsy and digestive problems, 92% of cerebral palsy patients had clinically significant gastrointestinal symptoms. Of that group, regurgitation and vomiting was present in about 30% of patients.

Other digestive issues commonly found in CP patients include constipation, stomach pain, and acid reflux.

It is not clear why cerebral palsy seems to cause these issues, but some factors that may contribute include:

  • Poor feeding
  • Unusual positioning
  • Swallowing difficulties
  • Poor mobility
  • Muscle spasms
  • Excess drooling

In addition, gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD, is common in children with cerebral palsy. This, combined with swallowing and feeding problems, may cause excess vomiting.

Vomiting and Malnutrition in Cerebral Palsy Patients

child with cerebral palsy lies in bed sick with flu while father calls the doctor

Digestive issues such as vomiting can lead to malnutrition, which many cerebral palsy patients struggle with. In fact, according to the NIH, malnutrition is a common secondary complication of cerebral palsy.

Malnutrition can lead to poor growth, muscle loss, and impaired motor function. Therefore, it is important to recognize the early signs of malnutrition due to vomiting, such as:

  • Lack of appetite or interest in food or drink
  • Tiredness and irritability
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Loss of fat and muscle mass
  • Longer healing time for wounds

In children, malnutrition can also cause slow behavioral and intellectual development, which can eventually result in learning difficulties.

The earlier you can treat and eliminate vomiting, the less likely it is that the person with cerebral palsy will become malnourished.

To do this, we’ll show you some helpful ways to eliminate vomiting and nausea in the section below.

Treating Cerebral Palsy Vomiting

The best way to treat vomiting in cerebral palsy patients is to make an appointment with a gastroenterologist. A gastroenterologist is a doctor that specializes in digestive issues. They can help determine the exact cause of your child’s stomach problems.

For example, it’s possible that the vomiting is triggered by acid reflux, which the doctor can prescribe medication for. If the vomiting is caused by swallowing problems, the doctor may refer you to a speech therapist who can teach your child new swallowing methods.

It’s also possible that your child may need more invasive measures, such as a feeding tube to help with malnutrition.

Talking with a gastroenterologist is the best approach, but in the meantime, there are also ways to help reduce nausea and vomiting right now.

While these methods will not cure whatever underlying digestive problem your child might have, they can offer relief while you wait to get in with a doctor:

1. Acupressure

Acupressure is one of the fastest ways to reduce feelings of nausea and vomiting. This treatment uses certain pressure points on the body to alleviate symptoms.

One effective pressure point for vomiting is located on the inner wrist. To find the pressure point on your child’s wrist, follow these steps:

  • Hold their hand so that their palm is facing up.
  • Place your first three fingers across their wrist.
  • Place your thumb just below these three fingers. You should be able to feel two tendons beneath your thumb. That is the pressure point.
  • Push your thumb on this point and move it in a circle for two minutes. Pressure should be firm but not so hard that it hurts.

Another pressure point that can help relieve nausea is the ear lobes. This one is easier and faster to find. Just rub both ear lobes in a circular direction for two minutes or until your child feels better. This point also works to reduce anxiety.

2. Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy can also reduce nausea and vomiting in cerebral palsy patients. By inhaling essential oils, you can stimulate the part of your brain that processes smell (the olfactory cortex).

The olfactory cortex is part of the limbic system, which influences the way your brain emotionally responds to certain stimuli. This can help calm the body’s nausea response.

To practice aromatherapy, try breathing an open essential oil bottle. You can also add the oil to a diffuser and have your child sit next to it for a few minutes.

One of the best essential oils to use for nausea is lavender because it helps promote relaxation and decrease feelings of anxiety.

Other oils you can use include:

  • Lemon oil
  • Frankincense
  • Clove
  • Chamomile
  • Peppermint
  • Rose

3. Deep Breathing

Research has shown that taking deep, controlled breaths activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This reduces the biological response that triggers vomiting and nausea.

To practice deep breathing, close your eyes, and slowly inhale through your nose. Then, when you have filled your lungs completely, hold for three seconds.

Finally, exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat several times until nausea subsides.

Sometimes it can be hard to help small children learn to take deep breaths, especially if they are feeling sick. You may need to use a game or activity to help them do this.

One good activity you can use to help children with cerebral palsy take deep breaths is to have them slowly blow bubbles. Try to get them to focus on taking as deep a breath as possible, then tell them to slowly breathe out through their mouth and watch the bubbles expand.

4. Fluids and Ginger Root

A glass cup of tea with lemon, mint and ginger

©iStock/Dmitrii Ivanov

It’s crucial to help your child with cerebral palsy stay hydrated, especially if they are vomiting frequently. Dehydration can cause muscle weakness and other serious problems, which can worsen your child’s condition. Just make sure they sip fluids slowly so as not to upset their stomach.

Some drinks that can keep your child hydrated and calm their stomach include:

  • Pear ginger smoothies
  • Lemonade
  • Ginger ale or ginger tea
  • Mint tea
  • Coconut water
  • Iced water

In addition, chewing on ginger root is an effective way to keep nausea at bay.

5. Medications

Finally, if nothing else works, there are medications that can reduce nausea and vomiting.

Some common over-the-counter drugs that can help include Pepto-Bismol and Dramamine.

If your child needs something stronger, there are also prescription anti-nausea meds, such as Zofran, that you can get from your doctor.

Vomiting in Cerebral Palsy Patients: Key Points

Vomiting is a serious but common problem in cerebral palsy patients. However, if left untreated, it can lead to malnutrition, muscle loss, and developmental delays.

Therefore, if your child starts vomiting and cannot keep their food down, take them to a gastroenterologist right away. This specialist can help you determine the cause behind the vomiting and point you towards effective treatment.

You should also try to make use of natural nausea treatments whenever possible, such as the ones listed above. These can be helpful alternatives to anti-nausea medications, which often cause drowsiness. Still, if your child needs instant relief, medications should be taken to prevent dehydration and malnourishment.

We hope this article helps you better understand how to treat vomiting in cerebral palsy patients. Good luck!

Keep It Going: Discover a home exercise program for CP that’s actually fun to do!

adult with cerebral palsy smiling while using FitMi home therapy

Finally! There’s a recovery device for CP that’s actually fun to use. See how Flint Rehab’s tools are helping with CP recovery:

“The FitMi and MusicGlove have done wonders for my son with hemiparesis from cerebral palsy and stroke.

It motivates him to do his exercises. It does not seem like therapy for him since it is fun. It monitors his progress so it is a great reinforcement for him.

Music is a motivator for him. He has been using it on his arm and we will try the leg exercises soon.”

FitMi works by motivating high repetition of therapeutic exercises while playing an engaging game. This gamification has been particularly great for motivating individuals with cerebral palsy to recover.

To see how FitMi works, click the button below:

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