Adult cyclical vomiting syndrome: a disorder of allostatic regulation?

Exp Brain Res. 2014 Aug;232(8):2541-7. doi: 10.1007/s00221-014-3939-4. Epub 2014 Apr 16.


Cyclic vomiting syndrome (CVS) is an idiopathic illness characterized by stereotypic and sudden-onset episodes of intense retching and repetitive vomiting that are often accompanied by severe abdominal pain. Many associated factors that predict CVS attacks, such as prolonged periods of fasting, sleep deprivation, physical and emotional stress, or acute anxiety, implicate sympathetic nervous system activation as a mechanism that may contribute to CVS pathogenesis. Furthermore, adult patients with CVS tend to have a history of early adverse life events, mood disorders, chronic stress, and drug abuse-all associations that may potentiate sympathetic neural activity. In this review, we set forth a conceptual model in which CVS is viewed as a brain disorder involving maladaptive plasticity within central neural circuits important for allostatic regulation of the sympathetic nervous system. This model not only can account for the varied clinical observations that are linked with CVS, but also has implications for potential therapeutic interventions. Thus, it is likely that cognitive behavioral therapy, stress management ("mind-body") interventions, regular exercise, improved sleep, and avoidance of cannabis and opiate use could have positive influences on the clinical course for patients with CVS.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Allostasis / physiology*
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • General Adaptation Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Vomiting / physiopathology*

Supplementary concepts

  • Familial cyclic vomiting syndrome