Rumination Disorder

​What is rumination disorder?

Rumination disorder is an illness that involves repetitive, voluntary, and habitual bringing up of food that might be partly digested. It often occurs effortlessly and painlessly, and is not associated with nausea or disgust. Rumination disorder can affect anyone at any age, including young babies.

Vomiting in rumination disorder is different to the kind of sickness you might get with a stomach bug, for example – the person won’t appear to feel sick or experience involuntary retching. The person may re-chew and re-swallow the food or just spit it out. Although this happens regularly and voluntarily, people with rumination disorder often do not feel in control of their disorder.

The exact causes of rumination disorder are not known. In infants and young children, lack of stimulation, neglect, stressful life situations, and problems in the parent-child relationship may be factors that make it more likely they will develop the disorder.

Other illnesses can cause similar behaviour to that seen in rumination disorder. In situations like this, the person wouldn’t be given a separate diagnosis of rumination disorder, and the behaviour should be addressed as part of the treatment for the illness that caused it. Examples of other illnesses that could cause similar behaviour to rumination disorder include eating disorders like bulimia or anorexia, or physical illnesses such as gastrointestinal conditions.

The number of people who have rumination disorder is unknown. Rumination disorder can lead to malnutrition, weight loss, dental erosions, and electrolyte disturbances if left untreated. It is therefore very important to contact your doctor as soon as possible if you’re worried about yourself or someone you know, and to ask to be referred to a specialist who can rule out other causes for the behaviour and discuss appropriate treatment.

Possible signs of rumination disorder

  • Vomiting food that has been partly digested on a regular basis
  • No obvious physical illness that causes this behaviour
  • Re-chewing and swallowing food that they’ve brought up
  • Hiding their behaviour, for example, by coughing or covering their mouth
  • Avoiding eating around others
  • Avoiding eating before socialising
  • Weight loss
  • Malnutrition
  • Not making expected weight gains
  • Straining and arching the back with the head held back, making sucking movements with their tongue
  • Appearance of finding the behaviour satisfying
  • Being hungry and irritable between instances of bringing up their food

Additional signs in babies

  • Not making expected weight gains
  • Straining and arching the back with the head held back, making sucking movements with their tongue
  • Appearance of finding the behaviour satisfying
  • Being hungry and irritable between instances of bringing up their food

Issue date: September 2017  Review date: September 2020 Version 2.0 Sources used to create this information are available by contacting Beat. We welcome your feedback on our information resources.