Diarrhea and vomiting are common symptoms that affect people of all ages, from babies and toddlers to adults. Most of the time, these two symptoms are the result of a stomach bug or food poisoning and resolve within a couple of days. Getting some rest and drinking plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration is usually the only treatment needed.
Though a virus is usually the culprit, there are other factors that can cause diarrhea and vomiting at the same time, such as certain medical conditions and medications.
Vomiting and diarrhea can happen at the same time for a number of reasons. A stomach virus or bacterial gastrointestinal (GI) infection is the most likely cause in children. The gastrointestinal tract is part of the digestive system.
These infections can affect adults as well, but there are a number of other reasons why an adult may experience these symptoms simultaneously, such as drinking too much alcohol or being pregnant.
Viral gastroenteritis is an infection in your intestines caused by a virus. Viral gastroenteritis is often referred to as the stomach flu, but influenza viruses don’t cause these infections. The viruses that most commonly cause gastroenteritis include:
While all of these viruses can affect people of any age, the latter three most often infect infants and toddlers according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
These viruses are transmitted from person to person by contact with infected stool and vomit. This can happen when an infected person doesn’t wash their hands thoroughly after using the bathroom, and then touches surfaces used by other people or prepares food for others.
Viral gastroenteritis symptoms include:
Food poisoning is an infection in your gut caused by bacteria. You get food poisoning by eating contaminated food. This can happen at home or in restaurants when food is handled incorrectly or not cooked properly.
Several bacteria can cause food poisoning, including:
Symptoms of food poisoning can start within hours of eating contaminated food and often resolve within a few hours to a few days. This usually happens without treatment. Watery diarrhea and vomiting are the most common symptoms of food poisoning.
Other symptoms include:
- abdominal cramps and pain
- bloody diarrhea
Traveler’s diarrhea is a digestive tract disorder that’s most often caused by viruses, parasites, or bacteria consumed in water or food. It’s most likely to occur when you’re visiting an area with a different climate or sanitation practices than what you’re accustomed to at home.
Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website to see if there is a health notice for the regions to which you’ve recently traveled.
This disorder generally clears up within two or three days. Watery diarrhea and cramps are the most common symptoms, but traveler’s diarrhea can also cause:
Stress or anxiety
The stress hormones released by your body slow motility in your stomach and small intestines, and trigger an increase in movement in your large intestine.
Your body goes through numerous changes during pregnancy.
Morning sickness is the most common cause of vomiting in pregnancy. Despite its name, morning sickness can occur at any time of the day. It affects 7 out of 10 pregnant women, usually during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
Some women develop hyperemesis gravidarum, which is a condition that causes severe nausea and vomiting.
Diarrhea and vomiting in pregnancy can be caused by diet changes, hormonal changes, and new food sensitivities. Prenatal vitamins also cause diarrhea in some people.
These symptoms can also be caused by gastroenteritis, which is common during pregnancy.
Overeating or overdrinking
Overindulging in food or drink can cause diarrhea and vomiting, along with:
The type of food you eat also matters. Eating large amounts of greasy or sugary foods can irritate your stomach and cause diarrhea and vomiting.
Alcohol causes diarrhea by speeding digestion, which stops your colon from absorbing water properly. Even drinking a small amount of alcohol can have this effect.
Excessive alcohol use can cause a condition known as alcoholic gastritis, which is an irritation of the stomach lining. Acute gastritis can occur after binge drinking or become chronic in people who drink alcohol regularly.
Gastritis symptoms include:
- upper abdominal pain or burning
- vomiting and nausea
- symptoms that improve or worsen after eating, depending on the food
Diarrhea and vomiting are side effects of many medications. Some are more likely to cause these symptoms than others. This can be because of the way the medication works or because they contain additives that irritate the stomach.
Your age, overall health, and other medications you may be taking can also increase the risk of side effects.
Medications that commonly cause diarrhea and vomiting include:
- certain antibiotics
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen (Advil) and aspirin (Bufferin)
- chemotherapy drugs
- metformin (Glucophage, Fortamet)
One way antibiotics can cause vomiting and diarrhea is by killing the “good” bacteria that normally lives in your GI tract. This allows bacteria called Clostridium difficile to become overgrown, which can result in symptoms similar to severe food poisoning.
Taking medication with food can sometimes relieve symptoms. Speak to a doctor about the best way to take your medication.
Vomiting and diarrhea that occur without a fever can be caused by:
- stress and anxiety
- consuming too much food or alcohol
Mild cases of viral gastroenteritis can also cause diarrhea and vomiting without fever.
Dehydration is a complication of diarrhea and vomiting and occurs when the body loses too much fluid. Dehydration can prevent your cells, tissues, and organs from functioning properly, leading to serious complications, including shock and even death.
Mild dehydration can be treated at home, but severe dehydration requires emergency care in a hospital.
Symptoms of dehydration in babies, toddlers, and children include:
- urinating less than usual, or three or more hours without a wet diaper
- dry mouth
- no tears when crying
- lack of energy
- sunken cheeks or eyes
- dry mouth
- decreased skin turgor (elasticity)
Symptoms in adults include:
- extreme thirst
- dry mouth
- urinating less than usual
- dark-colored urine
- decreased skin turgor
- sunken eyes or cheeks
Most of the time, vomiting and diarrhea will resolve within a couple of days without treatment. Home remedies and medications can help relieve your symptoms and avoid dehydration.
Home remedy for vomiting and diarrhea
Here are some ways you can treat vomiting and diarrhea at home to avoid dehydration:
- Get plenty of rest.
- Avoid stress.
- Drink lots of clear fluids like water, broth, clear sodas, and sports drinks.
- Eat saltine crackers.
- Follow the BRAT diet, which consists of bland foods.
- Avoid foods that are greasy, spicy, or high in fat and sugar.
- Avoid dairy.
- Avoid caffeine.
- Wash your hands with soap and water frequently.
Follow these tips for babies and toddlers:
- Give your baby smaller feedings more often if needed.
- Give sips of water between formula or solid food.
- Give them an oral rehydration solution like Pedialyte.
Vomiting and diarrhea medications and medical treatment
There are over-the-counter (OTC) medications and medical treatments available for diarrhea and vomiting. While generally safe for adults, OTC medications shouldn’t be taken without consulting a doctor first.
OTC medications include:
- bismuthsubsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate)
- loperamide (Imodium)
- antiemetic drugs, such as Dramamine and Gravol
A doctor may recommend antibiotics to treat vomiting and diarrhea caused by bacterial infections (food poisoning).
Sometimes medical treatment may be required for diarrhea and vomiting.
Take your child to the doctor if:
- they are under 12 months and showing signs of dehydration
- have diarrhea for more than seven days or are vomiting for more than two days
- are unable to keep fluid down
- are under 3 months with a temperature of 100.4°F (38°C)
- are 3 to 6 months with a temperature of 102.2°F (39°C)
Take your child to the emergency room if they:
- have signs of dehydration after using an oral rehydration solution
- have blood in their urine or stool
- have green or yellow vomit
- are too weak to stand
See a doctor if:
Most of the time, diarrhea and vomiting are due to a stomach bug and clear up on their own within a couple of days. Getting plenty of fluids and eating a bland diet can help.
Keep an eye out for signs of dehydration, especially in infants and toddlers who aren’t able to communicate what they’re feeling. Talk to a doctor if you or your child has severe symptoms or symptoms that last more than a few days.