A 23-year-old British woman is suffering from a rare condition that causes her to vomit every 20 minutes for days at a time.
Stephanie Horner began experiencing the issue at age 13, the U.K.’s Daily Mail reports, and it was only when she researched her symptoms online that she was referred to a specialist who diagnosed her with Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome (CVS).
CVS, which affects three out of every 100,000 children (when people are typically diagnosed), causes severe episodes of nausea and vomiting that can last from a few hours to several days, according to the National Institutes of Health. The episodes can be so intense that a person has to stay in bed for days and may need to visit the ER.
That’s exactly what happens to Stephanie, who is hospitalized at least once a month due to her condition. She has struggled to keep a job and was forced to drop out of college in 2011.
“I can be sick every 20 minutes when the condition is at its worst, and even in between that I'll be retching and trying not to cry,” Stephanie told the Daily Mail. “When I have bad episodes, all I can do is get to the hospital and keep strong until it passes.”
Bizarrely, people who suffer from CVS have a normal life between episodes, says Richard Boles, M.D., who treats patients with the condition and has researched it.
Boles says CVS affects a person’s cells and, like irritable bowel syndrome or ringing in the ears, is difficult for doctors to diagnose. “You can do all the tests in the world and probably won’t find it,” he says. Instead, doctors rely on patient reports of their symptoms to make a proper diagnosis, which, for many CVS sufferers, can take years.
Like most illnesses, there are varying degrees of CVS. Some people experience symptoms for several hours; others can have episodes for several days. (Boles says he regularly sees patients who have episodes that last for a week.)
Scientists still aren’t exactly sure what causes CVS, but genetics seem to be involved, as well as environmental factors like stress. But Boles says some people experience CVS episodes like clockwork, experiencing the symptoms at the same time every month.
CVS is also linked with migraines: Nearly 25 percent of adults who develop CVS also get them, the NIH reports.
There is some relief for CVS-sufferers, though: Boles says the disease is treatable with a combination of over the counter medications and vitamins, but the results are different for everyone.
For more on CVS, visit the Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome Association.