Vomiting and Diarrhea: Causes and Treatments

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Vomiting and diarrhea are common afflictions that can arise for many different reasons. Sometimes, a medical condition causes symptoms, but they can also develop because of infections or medications.

This article discusses the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for people who develop vomiting and diarrhea.

Woman sitting on bathroom floor with tissues

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Symptoms of Vomiting and Diarrhea

The symptoms associated with vomiting and diarrhea can vary depending on the cause.

Symptoms related to vomiting include:

  • Nausea
  • Gagging or retching
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pale skin
  • Drowsiness
  • Uncontrollable expulsion of stomach contents
  • An increase in saliva that leads to drooling or spitting
  • Extreme thirst from dehydration

Diarrhea-associated symptoms can include:

  • Cramping or abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Bloody stools
  • Fever and chills
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • An urgency to use the bathroom that may result in a loss of bowel control

When to Seek Emergency Medical Help

Vomiting and diarrhea can be mild and may not be a cause for concern if they occur only once. However, if either affliction persists, it can lead to severe dehydration and require emergency medical care. Symptoms that can alert you to a need for emergency medical assistance include:

  • Headaches
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Dry mouth, lips, and eyes
  • Dark urine
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Fever
  • Rapid pulse or breathing

What Causes Vomiting and Diarrhea?

Many conditions and illnesses can lead to vomiting and diarrhea, such as infections, psychological stress, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).


Gastroenteritis is the most common cause of vomiting and diarrhea. It is often called a “stomach bug” because a pathogen, such as a virus or bacteria, typically causes it.

In most cases, gastroenteritis isn’t severe, but in older adults, young children, and those living in underdeveloped areas, it can lead to severe health complications, including death.

Food Poisoning

Food poisoning occurs when you eat food that hasn’t been cooked adequately or is contaminated with some infectious pathogen. The most common pathogens that cause foodborne illness are:

Is Food Poisoning Serious?

Many people can develop mild cases of food poisoning. However, the infection can lead to severe vomiting and diarrhea, depleting the body of nutrients and water. This can be life-threatening if left unchecked.

Psychological Stress or Anxiety

The mind and the gut are interconnected. When you experience stress or anxiety, your body undergoes physiological changes to prepare you to either fight the threat or flee the situation. This is known as the fight-or-flight response.

During that response in the body, the signaling between the gut and brain can cause contractions in the digestive system, leading to vomiting and diarrhea.


Certain medications cause vomiting and diarrhea as a side effect while the body adjusts to the new substance. Drugs that can lead to vomiting and diarrhea include:

Vomiting and Diarrhea and Supplements

In some cases, nutritional supplements such as iron can aggravate the stomach and lead to vomiting and diarrhea. To avoid this, speak to a healthcare provider before beginning any new supplement.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

IBD develops when the gastrointestinal tract (GI) gets inflamed due to an autoimmune process. There are two types of IBD: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

The GI tract, including the intestines, esophagus, and stomach, can become damaged by the inflammation, which leads to symptoms.

The type of IBD most associated with diarrhea and vomiting is Crohn’s disease, which can occur anywhere in the GI tract. In contrast, ulcerative colitis is limited to the colon and is often associated with diarrhea.

Other Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease

People with Crohn’s disease may also develop other symptoms alongside vomiting and diarrhea, including:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Fever and chills

How to Treat Vomiting and Diarrhea

Treating vomiting and diarrhea often depends on what is causing it. However, some mainstay remedies are often used to control both, regardless of the cause.

Vomiting Remedies

There are many treatment options available for vomiting. They include both medications and natural-based treatments. Some drugs used to treat vomiting include:

  • Pepto Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate)
  • Dramamine or Gravol (dimenhydrinate)
  • Compazine (prochlorperazine)
  • Reglan (metoclopramide)
  • Zofran (ondansetron)

Some drugs may be used off-label, meaning they aren’t intended to treat vomiting, but they can help reduce it. Some off-label options include:

  • Gabapentin (anticonvulsant)
  • Zyprexa (olanzapine), an antipsychotic
  • Remeron (mirtazapine), an antidepressant
  • Ativan (lorazepam), a type of benzodiazepine antidepressant
  • Cannabinoids (compounds in cannabis)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants

Natural Treatments for Vomiting

People looking to take a more natural approach can try some of the following options:

  • Ginger
  • Lemon
  • Chamomile
  • Mint
  • Vitamin B supplements
  • Pomegranate and spearmint syrup
  • Cardamom

Diarrhea Remedies

Remedies for diarrhea aim to reduce the amount of water pulled into the intestines and slow the digestive process. Some medicinal options include:

  • Pepto Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate)
  • Imodium (loperamide)
  • Racecadotril (acetorphan)
  • Probiotics that contain Lactobacillus
  • Valium (diazepam), a benzodiazepine antidepressant

Consuming certain foods or nutritional supplements can also help reduce or control diarrhea bouts. Some options include:

  • Pectin, a binding agent to bulk the stool
  • Green bananas
  • Foods high in zinc (or zinc supplements)

Rehydration and Diarrhea

Replacing fluids after having diarrhea is crucial because dehydration can lead to severe health outcomes. To ensure you are hydrated during bouts of diarrhea, you can drink oral rehydrating beverages that include electrolytes. If that is not enough, you must get fluids intravenously.

What About Young Children?

The best way to treat children with vomiting and diarrhea is by monitoring their symptoms and ensuring they're getting enough fluids to counteract dehydration.

Once the child can drink fluids without vomiting or having another bout of diarrhea, you can reintroduce bland foods. The BRAT diet is often recommended for children and includes the following foods:

  • Bananas
  • Rice
  • Applesauce
  • Toast

Children cannot safely take certain medications used by adults for vomiting and diarrhea. For example, children under the age of 12 should not use Imodium. If your child needs medication, you should see a healthcare provider.

There are medications used to help with vomiting and diarrhea for children, such as Children's Gravol, but they aren't always needed. It's essential to find out the cause with a healthcare provider before giving your child medication they may not need.

When to Take Your Child to the Emergency Room

You must take your child to the emergency room if they experience vomiting and diarrhea along with:

  • Dehydration
  • Vomit that is yellow or green
  • Blood in the vomit or vomit that looks like coffee grounds
  • Blood in the stool or urine
  • Cannot stand because of weakness
  • A loss of consciousness
  • Vomiting that lasts for longer than eight hours
  • A stiff neck
  • Abdominal pain lasting for longer than two hours
  • A fever above 101.4 degrees F

How to Prevent Vomiting and Diarrhea

Preventing vomiting and diarrhea isn’t always easy because most cases aren’t avoidable. For example, if you have IBD or get food poisoning, you cannot prevent the ensuing illness.

That said, you can increase your chances of avoiding certain diseases or infections that cause vomiting and diarrhea by:

  • Washing your hands thoroughly before you eat and throughout the day
  • Ensuring that all your food is cooked to the appropriate temperature
  • Getting the proper diagnosis and treatment for underlying health disorders, such as anxiety or IBD


Vomiting and diarrhea are incredibly common. When they occur, it is not always a cause for concern and could be due to a mild illness. If that's the case, monitoring symptoms and taking medications to manage the symptoms can help you cope until they have passed. Sometimes, severe vomiting and diarrhea warrant a trip to the emergency room because they can cause dehydration.

In children, it is vital to monitor symptoms and avoid giving them any medications until you have spoken to a healthcare provider. Children cannot take many drugs adults use for vomiting and diarrhea, so a different treatment approach must be taken.

Preventing vomiting and diarrhea poses challenges simply because of the causes. Still, you can protect yourself from viral or bacterial illnesses by practicing good personal hygiene and ensuring your food is always cooked. See your healthcare provider if you experience vomiting or diarrhea for over two days.

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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 Angelica Bottaro
Angelica Bottaro is a professional freelance writer with over 5 years of experience. She has been educated in both psychology and journalism, and her dual education has given her the research and writing skills needed to deliver sound and engaging content in the health space.