Cyclic vomiting syndrome in adults: clinical features and response to tricyclic antidepressants

Am J Gastroenterol. 1999 Oct;94(10):2855-60. doi: 10.1111/j.1572-0241.1999.01428.x.


Objective: Cyclic vomiting syndrome (CVS) has been described infrequently in adults, and treatment in both children and adults remains unsatisfactory. We report clinical features of a group of adults with CVS and anecdotal outcome from open-label treatment with tricyclic antidepressants, medications that have some efficacy in other unexplained gastrointestinal disorders.

Methods: Clinical data were examined from 17 adult patients with CVS seen over a 10-yr period, each having been treated with a tricyclic antidepressant. Outpatient records were reviewed, clinical outcome was extracted using a priori criteria, and findings were compared with 37 patients having usual functional nausea and vomiting who also received tricyclic antidepressant therapy.

Results: Symptoms in CVS began at age 35 yr (range 14-73 yr); the average episode length was 6 days (range 1-21 days) and the symptom-free interval averaged 3.1 months (range 0.5-6 months). Vomiting cycles typically began without warning, and fewer than one-third of the subjects reported a prodrome or potential trigger event, such as menstrual periods, pregnancy, or large meals. Sleep was seemingly beneficial in 23.5%. Tricyclic antidepressant therapy was associated with complete remission in 17.6% and partial response in 58.8%, but was less effective than for functional nausea and vomiting (p = 0.02).

Conclusions: CVS is a rare diagnosis with distinctive features in adults. Duration of episodes and cycles varies considerably across subjects. In open-label, uncontrolled use, tricyclic antidepressants appear beneficial for some subjects but are less effective in CVS than in chronic, persistent functional nausea and vomiting.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Periodicity*
  • Vomiting / drug therapy*


  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic