Nausea and Diarrhea: Causes and Treatments

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Nausea and diarrhea often occur together, particularly with gastroenteritis and food poisoning.

This article will discuss how each symptom presents, what can cause both symptoms to occur, and how to treat nausea and diarrhea.

person nauseous on plane

Enes Evren / Getty Images

Symptoms of Nausea and Diarrhea

How a person experiences nausea and/or diarrhea can vary by individual and the cause of their symptoms.

Nausea can present as:

  • Feeling the urge to vomit (with or without vomiting occurring)
  • An uneasy feeling in the stomach and/or throat that may come in waves
  • Retching (contractions of the abdominal and respiratory muscles)

Other symptoms that can occur with nausea include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Increased saliva
  • Dizziness
  • Light-headedness

Diarrhea is defined as loose, watery stools occurring three or more times in one day.

Diarrhea can present with symptoms such as:

  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • An urgent need to have a bowel movement
  • Nausea
  • Loss of bowel control
  • Bloating

When to Get Emergency Care

Call 911 (or your local emergency number) or seek immediate medical treatment if you or your child experiences:

  • Signs of a heart attack (chest pain/tightness/heaviness, shortness of breath, pain that spreads to the arms, neck, back, or jaw, or any other symptoms of cardiac problems)
  • Reasons to think the symptoms could be caused by poisoning
  • Blood in the vomit (could look like coffee grounds)
  • Vomit that looks green
  • Vomiting that has lasted more than 24 hours
  • Severe abdominal and/or rectal pain
  • Severe headache and/or stiff neck
  • Signs of dehydration (such as infrequent or lack of urination, dark urine, dry mouth, no tears)
  • High fever
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Diarrhea that has lasted longer than two days
  • Six or more episodes of loose stools within 24 hours
  • Stools that contain blood or pus or are black and tarry
  • Frequent vomiting with diarrhea
  • An abdomen/belly that looks swollen
  • A rash or jaundice (yellowish skin and/or eyes)
  • Refusal to eat or drink (child)

6 Common Causes of Nausea and Diarrhea

Many conditions can cause nausea and diarrhea. Some of the more common ones include:

  • Viral gastroenteritis ("stomach flu")
  • Food poisoning
  • Medications
  • A food intolerance
  • Infections
  • Gastrointestinal conditions

Viral Gastroenteritis ("Stomach Flu")

The most common cause of diarrhea—and a common cause of nausea—is viral gastroenteritis. This illness is usually called the stomach flu or a stomach bug, although it is not a form of influenza.

Viruses that commonly cause diarrhea and/or nausea include:

  • Norovirus
  • Rotavirus

Rotavirus is a common cause of acute diarrhea in infants and children, with outbreaks that tend to occur most often in the winter and early spring. A rotavirus vaccine is available to help protect kids against this condition.

Other symptoms of gastroenteritis may include:

Symptoms from viral gastroenteritis typically start to improve within 24 hours.

Food Poisoning

Ingesting food that contains toxins from bacteria in foods that have not been prepared, handled, cooked, or stored properly can cause nausea and diarrhea.

You typically start to feel sick from food poisoning between one to eight hours after eating the contaminated food, but it can take longer for symptoms to appear.

An upset stomach from food poisoning can last from 12 to 48 hours.


Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, often cause nausea. They also make the lining of the intestine thinner, causing stool to be softer and more watery, which can lead to diarrhea.

Other medications that can cause nausea and/or diarrhea include:

  • Some antibiotics, such as erythromycin
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Advil/Motrin (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen)
  • Aspirin
  • Some blood pressure medications, such as Nifedical/Procardia (nifedipine)
  • Antacids containing magnesium

Food Intolerance

Food allergies and intolerances to food such as cow's milk, eggs, cereal grains, or seafood may cause nausea and/or diarrhea. Lactose intolerance (sensitivity to foods and beverages containing milk products) commonly causes diarrhea.

People who are intolerant of fructose may also experience diarrhea if they consume foods or beverages that contain fructose, such as fruits, fruit juices, honey, or high-fructose corn syrup.

Sugar alcohols, often found in sugar-free products, may also cause diarrhea for some people. These alcohols include sorbitol, xylitol, and mannitol.


In addition to viral infections, bacterial and parasitic infections can also cause nausea and diarrhea. These infections are usually spread through contaminated food, water (including ice cubes), or beverages.

When these infections are contracted during travel to certain areas, it is called traveler's diarrhea.

Gastrointestinal Conditions

Conditions that affect the stomach and/or intestines can have symptoms that include nausea and diarrhea. These conditions include:

How to Treat Nausea and Diarrhea

Nausea and vomiting are symptoms of conditions. How they are treated depends on their cause. Often, nausea and diarrhea can be managed at home, but in some cases medical treatment is necessary. Talk to your healthcare provider before trying any treatment for nausea or diarrhea to ensure the treatment plan is right for you and your condition.

Nausea Remedies


Depending on the cause of your nausea, your healthcare provider may recommend medications such as:

  • Anti-nausea medications
  • Antianxiety medications
  • Antihistamines
  • Antiemetics (drugs that stop vomiting)

You also may be advised to start oral rehydration therapy, which involves drinking a rehydration solution specially formulated to replace minerals and fluids you have lost through frequent vomiting and/or diarrhea.

Check with your healthcare provider before taking any medications, including over-the-counter (OTC) ones, especially if you are pregnant.

Natural, At-Home Solutions

If the cause of your nausea doesn't require medical attention, it can often be managed with some at-home measures such as:

  • Getting some fresh air
  • Eating smaller, more frequent meals of bland foods you can tolerate
  • Eating foods containing ginger
  • Sipping clear fluids and teas such as ginger, peppermint, or chamomile (check with your healthcare provider before drinking herbal teas if you are pregnant)
  • Distracting yourself with something you enjoy, such as a podcast or a movie
  • Eating slowly and not lying down right after eating
  • Avoiding spicy, fried, or greasy food, and caffeinated beverages
  • Wearing clothing that is loose around your stomach
  • Engaging in relaxation and mindfulness exercises

Lifestyle Changes

If you are experiencing prolonged or repeated episodes of nausea, your healthcare provider may refer you to a specialist, such as a gastroenterologist. A gastroenterologist can determine the reason for your nausea and work to manage it. Sometimes, lifestyle changes, like modifying your diet, could help.

Diarrhea Remedies


Which medications are recommended for treating your diarrhea will depend on the cause of the diarrhea. For symptomatic relief of acute (sudden onset) diarrhea, your healthcare provider may recommend medications such as:

  • Imodium (loperamide)
  • Pepto-Bismol/Kaopectate (bismuth subsalicylate)

Diarrhea caused by bacteria is likely to be treated with antibiotics, while parasitic infections are treated with medications that target those parasites.

Do not take medication for diarrhea, including OTC medications, without first consulting with your healthcare provider, as these drugs can worsen some infections.

Don't take bismuth subsalicylate with the herbs white willow (Salix alba), meadowsweet (Spirea ulmaria), or wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens).

Your healthcare provider may suggest oral rehydration therapy as well.

Natural, At-Home Solutions

Unless your diarrhea needs medical attention, you can usually manage it at home with techniques similar to those used to manage nausea, such as sipping liquids, eating small meals of bland food, and avoiding foods and beverages that could irritate your digestive system, like greasy foods or caffeine.

Lifestyle Changes

If you have a condition such as IBD or IBS that causes more frequent episodes of diarrhea, your healthcare provider may suggest changes to your diet or lifestyle habits that could help.

What About Young Children?

It is important to identify the cause of the nausea and/or diarrhea in children. If they have an infection, appropriate antibiotic treatment will be needed.

Don't give your child OTC medications for nausea or diarrhea unless directed by your healthcare provider, as these can be dangerous for infants and young children.

Infants can continue breastfeeding or drinking formula if they are not throwing up repeatedly. If your child is not vomiting, they can continue to eat their usual diet as they feel up to it.

Children with diarrhea and/or vomiting must be watched carefully for signs of dehydration. Your healthcare provider may recommend giving your child rehydrating solutions such as:

  • Pedialyte
  • Naturalyte
  • Infalyte
  • CeraLyte

Use commercial rehydrating solutions as directed by your healthcare provider, don't attempt to make your own.

If the diarrhea is severe, intravenous (IV, within a vein) fluids may be needed at the hospital to treat dehydration.

How to Prevent Nausea and Diarrhea

It's not always possible to prevent nausea and diarrhea, but steps can be taken to lower the risk of spreading the germs that cause infections leading to these symptoms.

  • Wash your hands well and frequently with soap and water (especially after using the washroom, changing diapers or helping with toileting, and before and after handling food).
  • Follow safety guidelines for handling, cooking, cleaning, and storing foods.
  • Get your child vaccinated for rotavirus according to schedule, which usually starts at 2 months old. Ask your healthcare provider when each subsequent dose is needed.
  • Regularly clean bathroom and kitchen surfaces—and those touched frequently—with a cleaner that kills viruses and bacteria.

Tips for Preventing Traveler's Diarrhea

To help guard against contracting an infection that leads to nausea and diarrhea when traveling, take measures such as:

  • Research where you are going and talk to your healthcare provider about taking precautions beforehand, since some areas are more prone to traveler's diarrhea than others.
  • Avoid drinking tap water or using tap water to prepare food or drinks, brush your teeth, or make ice.
  • Drink bottled water, soft drinks, and drinks that have been made with boiling water, such as coffee or tea.
  • Make sure the juice, milk, and milk products you consume have been pasteurized
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat, fish, or shellfish (food should be fully cooked and served hot).
  • Don't eat raw or fresh fruits and vegetables unless you have washed and peeled them yourself.
  • Avoid eating food from street vendors or food trucks.

When to See Your Healthcare Provider

Contact your healthcare provider if it's not an emergency, but you or your child experience symptoms such as:

  • Symptoms that keep coming back or are getting worse
  • Inability to keep fluids down for 12 hours or more
  • Fever with nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea
  • You feel you or your child should be seen

Watch for signs of dehydration, such as:

  • Urinating less often
  • Having dark-yellow urine
  • No tears with crying
  • Sunken-looking eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased thirst
  • Skin not bouncing back as usual when squeezed or touched
  • Dizziness or light-headedness


Nausea is the sensation that you are going to vomit. Diarrhea is three or more episodes of watery stool in a day. It is common for nausea and diarrhea to occur simultaneously, including viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections, such as gastroenteritis and food poisoning. Some medications can also cause nausea and diarrhea, as can certain conditions such as IBD and IBS.

Nausea and diarrhea can usually be treated at home with fluids, rest, and bland foods. More serious symptoms, such as blood in the vomit or stool, require medical attention and may need medications like antibiotics for a bacterial infection.

17 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Heather Jones
Heather M. Jones is a freelance writer with a strong focus on health, parenting, disability, and feminism.