Nausea, Vomiting and Diarrhea

Causes & Treatment

Dr. Phil Mitchell
Medically reviewed by Dr. Phil MitchellMarch 29th, 2024
Older male feeling nauseous at home

Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are common stomach problems that can be linked to many different causes. While we all know these feelings, it’s helpful to get clear on the vocabulary: Nausea is the feeling that you might throw up, while vomiting is actually throwing up. Diarrhea is when your stools are watery and not formed.

Fortunately, in most cases these conditions can be treated with rest and diet, and clear up within a day or two. If you’re not feeling better in 1-3 days, it’s important to follow up with your primary healthcare provider. If seeing your provider isn’t possible, DispatchHealth may recommend you schedule a follow-up with us.

Common Causes of Nausea, Vomiting and Diarrhea

When nausea or vomiting and diarrhea are both present, the culprit is most often food poisoning from eating spoiled food, or an infection commonly called a “stomach bug” or “stomach flu.” Stomach bugs and flus are contagious, meaning you likely caught it from someone else who was sick.

If you believe you have a contagious stomach bug, wash your hands carefully and often, especially after using the bathroom, and avoid others to reduce the risk of spreading the infection.

When nausea or vomiting occurs without diarrhea, a wide variety of causes could be to blame. These include:

  • Pregnancy
  • Stomach or intestinal problems like appendicitis or bowel blockages
  • Medications like chemotherapy used for cancer treatment, pain medications, and antibiotics
  • Feeling dizzy or motion sickness
  • Migraine headaches
  • Substances like alcohol and marijuana

Dietary Treatments for Nausea, Vomiting and Diarrhea

These common stomach upsets can usually be treated with rest, fluids and careful diet. In some cases, medications may be prescribed.

Rest your stomach by avoiding food or drink for 2-3 hours after throwing up.

  • After vomiting stops, start with ice chips or popsicles. Then, add sips of clear liquids like apple juice, soup broth, sports drinks, ginger ale, or cola every 10 minutes.
  • If you can keep down sips of clear liquids for most of the day, you can add small amounts of simple foods like soft fruits, steamed or boiled vegetables, and low-fiber starches like crackers, noodles or cream-of-wheat.
  • For a few days, avoid dairy products and hard-to-digest fatty, greasy, or spicy foods.

Oral Rehydration Therapy

If you need extra hydration, your healthcare provider might suggest oral rehydration therapy (ORT), which means drinking a special mixture of fluids containing sugar and salt over many hours. This is often a better treatment than IV fluids for dehydration caused by vomiting or diarrhea.

Recipes for ORT

  • Combine ¾ teaspoon of salt with 32 ounces of a sports drink like Gatorade®
  • Combine 2 cups of liquid soup broth (NOT low sodium) with 2 cups of water and 2 tablespoons sugar

Medication for Nausea, Vomiting and Diarrhea

  • Your healthcare provider may prescribe anti-nausea pills like Ondansetron (Zofran), Promethazine (Phenergan) or Metoclopramide (Reglan) to control nausea.
  • Over-the-counter pills like Loperamide (Imodium®) or Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol®) may be used to control diarrhea. Do not take these medications if you have fever or blood in the stool.
  • Antibiotics are not needed in most cases but might be prescribed if the diarrhea is thought to be caused by a bacterial infection.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Get seen by a healthcare professional right away if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms with nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

  • Severe or intense abdominal pain
  • Blood in vomit or stool
  • Feeling dizzy or weak
  • Fainting or feeling like you might faint
  • Mental confusion
  • Lack of urination for more than 8 hours
  • Fever above 101.3°F

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