Nonspecific Vomiting and Diarrhea (Adult)

image of young woman looking ill.

Vomiting and diarrhea can have many causes, including:

  • Helping your body get rid of harmful substances 

  • Gastroenteritis caused by viruses, parasites, bacteria, or toxins.

  • Allergy to or side effect of a food or medicine

  • Severe stress or worry (anxiety) 

  • Other illnesses

  • Pregnancy

It is often hard to pinpoint an exact cause, even with testing. Vomiting and diarrhea often go away within a day or two without problems. If they continue, though, they can lead to too much loss of fluid (dehydration). This can be serious if not treated.

Home care

Medicines

  • You may use acetaminophen or NSAID medicines like ibuprofen or naproxen to control fever, unless another medicine was prescribed. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease, talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines. Also talk with your provider if you've had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding. Don't give aspirin to anyone under 18 years of age who is ill with a fever because it may cause severe disease or death. Don't use NSAID medicines if you are already taking one for another condition (like arthritis) or are on aspirin (such as for heart disease or after a stroke)

  • Over-the-counter medicines for diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting are generally OK unless you have bleeding, fever, or severe abdominal pain.

General care

  • If symptoms are severe, rest at home for the next 24 hours, or until you are feeling better.

  • Washing your hands with soap and water, or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer is the best way to stop the spread of infection. Wash your hands after touching anyone who is sick.

  • Wash your hands after using the toilet and before meals. Clean the toilet after each use.

  • Dry your hands with a single use towel.

  • Caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol can make the diarrhea, cramping, and pain worse. Remember, caffeine not only is in coffee, but also is in chocolate, some energy drinks, and teas.

Diet

  • Water and clear liquids are important so you don't get dehydrated. Drink a small amount at a time. Don't guzzle down the drinks. That may increase your nausea, make cramping worse, and cause the drinks to come back up.

  • Sports drinks may also help if you are healthy and not too dehydrated. They have too much sugar and not enough electrolytes and can sometimes make things worse. Also, don't drink beverages that are too acidic, like orange juice and grape juice.

  • If you are very dehydrated, commercially available products called oral rehydration solutions are best.

Food

  • Don't force yourself to eat, especially if you have cramps, diarrhea, or vomiting. Eat just a little at a time, and then wait a few minutes before you try to eat more.

  • Don't eat fatty, greasy, spicy, or fried foods.

  • Don't eat dairy products if you have diarrhea. They can make it worse.

During the first 24 hours (the first full day), follow the diet below:

  • Beverages: Oral rehydration solutions, sports drinks, soft drinks without caffeine, mineral water, and decaffeinated tea and coffee

  • Soups: Clear broth, consommé, and bouillon

  • Desserts: Plain gelatin, popsicles, and fruit juice bars

During the next 24 hours (the second day), you may add the following to the above if you are better. If not, continue what you did the first day:

  • Hot cereal, plain toast, bread, rolls, crackers

  • Plain noodles, rice, mashed potatoes, chicken noodle or rice soup

  • Unsweetened canned fruit (avoid pineapple), bananas

  • Limit fat intake to less than 15 grams per day by avoiding margarine, butter, oils, mayonnaise, sauces, gravies, fried foods, peanut butter, meat, poultry, and fish.

  • Limit fiber. Avoid raw or cooked vegetables, fresh fruits (except bananas) and bran cereals.

  • Limit caffeine and chocolate. No spices or seasonings except salt.

During the next 24 hours:

  • Gradually resume a normal diet, as you feel better and your symptoms improve.

  • If at any time your symptoms start getting worse again, go back to clear liquids until you feel better.

Food preparation

  • If you have diarrhea, you should not prepare food for others. When preparing foods, wash your hands before and after.

  • Wash your hands or use alcohol-based sanitizer after using cutting boards, countertops, and knives that have been in contact with raw food.

  • Dry your hands with a single use towel.

  • Keep uncooked meats away from cooked and ready-to-eat foods.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. Call if you don't get better in the next 2 to 3 days. If a stool (diarrhea) sample was taken, or cultures done, you will be told if they are positive, or if your treatment needs to be changed. You may call as directed for the results.

If X-rays were taken, you will be notified of any new findings that may affect your care

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Chest pain

  • Confusion

  • Severe drowsiness or trouble awakening

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Seizure

  • Stiff neck

  • Severe weakness, dizziness, or lightheadedness

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Bloody or black vomit or stools

  • Severe, steady abdominal pain or any abdominal pain that is getting worse

  • Severe headache or stiff neck

  • An inability to hold down even sips of liquids for more than 12 hours

  • Vomiting that lasts more than 24 hours

  • Diarrhea that lasts more than 24 hours

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Yellowish color to your skin or the whites of your eyes

  • Signs of dehydration, such as dry mouth, little urine (less than every 6 hours), or very dark urine

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© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.