Nausea and Vomiting After a Car Accident: How Serious is It?

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It’s normal to feel anxious and experience nausea in the nerve-racking aftermath of a car crash. However, in some cases, nausea after a car accident can signal more than just stress. It’s crucial to receive immediate medical attention to learn if your nausea is a sign of a more serious injury.

The impact of a vehicle collision can tear sensitive soft tissue, damage internal organs, and cause life-threatening internal bleeding. Nausea and vomiting might seem like a natural side effect of a traumatic car crash, but these symptoms should never be ignored.

Here’s how to best navigate nausea after a car accident, including when to seek medical care.

Possible Causes of Nausea and Vomiting After an Accident

The blunt force of a car crash can potentially cause numerous car accident injuries, from head trauma to broken bones. Several injuries can cause seemingly unrelated symptoms, like nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain. Below are the common possible causes of nausea after a car accident.

1. Fear and Anxiety

Fear and anxiety are normal emotions after a car crash. When you experience these emotions, your body might release hormones to help you safely remove yourself from the situation. This process is referred to as your fight or flight response, a natural physical reaction to a stressful situation.

A stress response to an auto accident can make you feel nauseous or even sick to your stomach. You may experience a stomach ache, diarrhea, or painful spasms in your bowels. Some accident victims may reach the point of dry heaving or vomiting while still at the scene of the crash.

In most cases, nausea caused by fear or anxiety will subside within a few hours to a few days. If nausea does not stop, it’s important to have your symptoms evaluated by a medical professional. Persistent nausea caused by a stress response may indicate a more serious condition, like PTSD.

2. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder, often abbreviated to PTSD, is a mental health condition triggered by an unbearably stressful or painful event. PTSD is very common among victims of serious car accidents and is present in as many as 33% of accident victims 30-days post-crash.

PTSD significantly worsens the body’s natural stress response. Psychological symptoms of PTSD after a car accident include flashbacks, nightmares, and uncontrollable or intrusive thoughts. Physical symptoms range from increased blood pressure and heart rate to nausea and vomiting.

It’s essential to seek the proper care if you believe you may have developed PTSD from a motor vehicle accident. There are various resources available to diagnose and treat PTSD, such as psychiatrists and psychologists, so you begin to return to your usual, pain-free self.

3. Abdominal Muscle Strain

Several types of soft tissue are located throughout the abdomen. Muscles, tendons, and ligaments hold key internal organs in place. An abdominal muscle strain is a type of soft tissue injury that refers to a stretch or tear in one of the five abdominal muscles.

Like all soft tissue injuries, a muscle strain can cause pain, swelling, and discoloration at the injury site. A strain in the abdomen can also cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, and a shallow heart rate. Seek medical attention for any unresolved abdominal pain.

4. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

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A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a head injury caused by a direct blow to the skull. A direct impact, such as blunt force trauma from a car crash, can cause brain dysfunction or a series of symptoms that impact an accident victim’s cognitive and physical abilities.

The most common TBI from a car accident is a concussion. Known as a mild TBI (MTBI), a concussion occurs when a direct impact forces the brain to slam against the inside of the skull repeatedly. Tell-tale symptoms of a concussion include nausea, vomiting, and a headache.

Beyond a concussion, the blunt force of a car crash can also cause a moderate or severe TBI. Serious TBIs can cause persistent headaches (migraines), repeated vomiting, and even seizures. If you’ve struck your head during a crash and now experience nausea, seek immediate medical attention.

5. Whiplash (Cervical Sprain)

Whiplash is the most common car accident neck injury. Also known as a cervical sprain, a whiplash injury is caused by a rapid back-and-forth motion in the neck and head. The violent motion of the neck combined with the average weight of the head can tear sensitive structures in the spine.

A whiplash injury typically involves soft tissue like muscles and ligaments. However, a traumatic accident can also damage the individual joints that connect each bone in the spine. These types of injuries can cause severe neck and shoulder pain, debilitating headaches, nausea, and vomiting.

When left untreated, whiplash injuries can significantly worsen over time. Accident victims who fail to seek medical care for whiplash injuries and nausea can develop whiplash syndrome, a collection of physical and mental symptoms that can persist for months or years post-accident.

6. Bone Fractures

A bone fracture is a partial or complete break in one of the 206 bones in the body. The unexpected impact of an airbag or other hard surface in a vehicle can force a bone to split in two. There are three primary categories of bone fractures after a motor vehicle accident, including:

  1. Open or Closed Fractures. An open fracture is a broken bone that exits through the skin, whereas a closed fracture does not puncture the skin.
  2. Hairline or Complete Fractures. A hairline fracture is only a partial break in the bone, whereas a complete fracture separates the bone into two or more pieces.
  3. Displaced or Nondisplaced Fractures. A displaced fracture creates a gap where the bone breaks, whereas a nondisplaced fracture leaves the bone in alignment.

Serious bone fractures, such as an open or displaced fracture, can create severe pain symptoms. Some accident victims may experience nausea or vomiting as a response to extreme pain levels. Serious fractures may require surgery to heal, so be sure to seek medical care as soon as possible.

7. Seat Belt Syndrome

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Seat belt syndrome is a collection of crash-related injuries caused by a traditional shoulder strap and lap belt restraint system. The force of the restraint during a sudden stop can save your life, but it can also injure internal organs and cause damage to the digestive system.

Seat belt syndrome is diagnosed by a ‘seat belt sign’ bruise across the upper body with either an internal organ injury or middle or lower body fracture. The most common internal injuries included with seat belt syndrome are organ aggravation, internal bruising, and systemic infection.

The above stomach injuries may cause intense nausea, vomiting, and pain. Diarrhea, gas, and general stomach distress often signal an underlying internal injury. If nausea after a car accident persists, visit a medical professional for a proper injury diagnosis.

8. Internal Bleeding

Internal bleeding from a car accident is caused by damage to organs or blood vessels in the abdomen and chest. In severe cases, internal bleeding is caused by a punctured organ or damage to the digestive system. These injuries can cause irreparable damage or become fatal if left untreated.

Symptoms of internal bleeding include upset stomach, bloating, nausea, and vomiting. In life-threatening cases, accident victims may spit up or vomit blood. If you have severe abdominal pain and suspect you may have internal bleeding, do not wait to seek medical treatment.

Never Wait to Seek Medical Attention

It is always wise to seek medical attention as soon as possible after a car crash. A medical professional can help you discover the extent of your injuries and protect your health and well-being. If you’ve sustained serious injuries, immediate medical care can safeguard your legal rights.

In the moments after a crash, your body may release hormones called endorphins to help limit pain and stress signals. When the endorphins finally wear off hours or even days later, pain from a car accident can limit your ability to eat, sleep, or week. Because you may not feel pain right away, you may be unaware of any side effects of an underlying injury, such as nausea or vomiting. 

A medical professional can diagnose your pain symptoms properly so you can begin the road to recovery. This diagnosis will be important in any litigation related to your accident claim, especially for the insurance company. Such medical records demonstrate that your injuries were directly related to the car accident and serve as evidence for any potential compensation.

How are Vomiting and Nausea Treated?

A medical treatment plan for nausea after a car accident will rely on the specific injury. Generally speaking, a doctor will administer a physical exam across the chest and abdomen to feel for damage beneath the skin. They may also request an MRI, CT scan, or X-ray for an accurate diagnosis.

Once the underlying cause of your nausea and vomiting is discovered, your doctor will create a treatment plan to address your injury symptoms. Psychological injuries, like anxiety and PTSD, may be recommended to a psychiatrist for a combination of therapy and medication.

Mild physical injuries, such as a bone fracture or sprain, may require a cast or sling to allow the damage to heal. More severe or life-threatening injuries, such as internal bleeding or damage to internal organs, may require surgery or time spent in the hospital for proper treatment.

Can I Sue if an Auto Accident Caused Nausea and Vomiting?

You may be able to sue if an auto accident caused nausea and vomiting. A car accident lawsuit is typically filed after an unsuccessful or unsatisfactory insurance claim. An auto accident insurance claim can fail for a variety of reasons, namely that the offered compensation was too low.

It’s common for the insurance company to offer victims as little compensation as possible. However, car accident victims who experience nausea and vomiting due to a car accident that was limited or no fault of their own have the right to recoup expenses caused by the crash, including:

  • Past and future medical bills
  • Property damage costs, such as vehicle repairs
  • Emotional duress, such as anxiety 
  • Pain and suffering
  • Lost wages

A personal injury attorney can help you file a lawsuit against the driver responsible for a crash that caused nausea and vomiting. A personal injury lawyer will help gather medical documentation related to the injury and all subsequent injury expenses.

Next Steps for Nausea After a Car Accident

Living through a car accident is frightening enough. If you begin to experience nausea, vomiting, or stomach pain in the days after a crash, do not suffer these symptoms alone. Seek immediate medical attention to protect your health and safety, and safeguard your rights to compensation.

At David Bryant Law, our team has provided top-quality legal services to car accident victims across the nation. Contact our law firm today for a free consultation to learn the potential next steps you can take after developing nausea and vomiting from a car accident.

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David G. Bryant is certified to practice in all state courts in Kentucky, and federal courts in the Eastern and Western districts of Kentucky, Southern District of New York, Southern District of West Virginia, Northern District of Ohio, Middle District of Tennessee, and Western District of Pennsylvania. He is licensed to practice before the United States Supreme Court and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.