Diarrhoea and vomiting

Diarrhoea and vomiting are common in adults, children and babies. You can have them together or on their own. They're usually caused by a stomach bug and should pass in a few days. See ‘when to get medical help’ sections if are concerned about you or your child’s symptoms.

How to treat diarrhoea and vomiting yourself

You can usually treat yourself or your child at home.

The most important thing is to have plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

Do

  • stay at home and get plenty of rest
  • drink lots of fluids, such as water and squash – take small sips if you feel sick
  • carry on giving breast or bottle feeds to your baby – if they're being sick, try giving small feeds more often than usual
  • for babies on formula or solid foods, give small sips of water between feeds
  • eat when you feel able to – you don't need to have or avoid any specific foods
  • take paracetamol if you're in discomfort – check the leaflet before giving paracetamol to your child

Don't

  • have fruit juice or fizzy drinks – they can make diarrhoea worse
  • make baby formula weaker – use it at its usual strength
  • give young children medicine to stop diarrhoea
  • give aspirin to children under 16

Diarrhoea and vomiting can spread easily

If you have a stomach bug, you could be infectious to others.

You're most infectious from when the symptoms start until 2 days after they've passed. Stay off school or work until the symptoms have stopped for 2 days.

To avoid spreading an infection:

Do

  • wash your hands with soap and water often
  • wash dirty clothing and bedding separately on a hot wash
  • clean toilet seats, flush handles, taps, surfaces and door handles every day

Don't

  • prepare food for other people, if possible
  • share towels, flannels, cutlery or utensils
  • use a swimming pool until 2 weeks after the symptoms stop

 

How a pharmacist can help

A pharmacist can help if you or your child has diarrhoea and vomiting. They may recommend:

  • oral rehydration sachets that you mix with water and drink
  • medicine to stop diarrhoea for a few hours (like loperamide) – not suitable for young children

 

When to see your GP (adults)

You should speak to a GP or contact GP out of hours service if you:

  • have diarrhoea for more than 7 days or vomiting for more than 2 days
  • vomiting for less than 2 days, but are unable to keep any fluid down and have symptoms of dehydration
  • are dehydrated despite using oral rehydration sachets
  • have bloody diarrhoea or bleeding from your bottom
  • have green or yellow vomit
  • you're pregnant
  • you're over 60
  • in the last few weeks you've returned from a part of the world with poor sanitation
  • you have a long-term underlying condition, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), heart valve disease, diabetes or kidney disease
  • you have a weak immune system – for example, because of medication, cancer treatment or HIV

When to get medical help for your child

You should take your child to your GP or contact GP out of hours service if they are:

under 3 months and has 1 or more of the following:

  • have a temperature of 38C or higher
  • have signs of dehydration
  • vomiting for more than 12 hours
  • have pooed more than five times in the previous 24 hours

3 to 6 months and has 1 or more of the following:

  • have a temperature of 39C or higher
  • have signs of dehydration
  • vomiting for more than 12 hours
  • have pooed more than five times in the previous 24 hours

6 to 12 months and has 1 or more of the following:

  • have signs of dehydration
  • vomiting for more than 12 hours
  • have pooed more than five times in the previous 24 hours

1 year to 2 years and has 1 or more of the following:

  • have signs of dehydration
  • vomiting for more than 24 hours
  • have pooed more than five times in the previous 24 hours

older than 2 years and has 1 or more of the following:

  • have signs of dehydration
  • vomiting for more than 2 days
  • have diarrhoea for more than 7 days

Check with the GP or GP out of hours service before going in – they may suggest a phone check up.

When to get immediate medical help for your child

Take your child to your GP urgently or contact GP out of hours service if they:

  • still have signs of dehydration despite using oral rehydration sachets
  • have green or yellow vomit
  • have blood in their poo or bleeding from their bottom

Go to your nearest emergency department if you can't get hold of your GP.

When to get urgent medical help (children and adults)

Call 999 or go to your nearest emergency department  if you or your child:

  • are vomiting blood or have vomit that looks like ground coffee
  • have a stiff neck and pain when looking at bright lights
  • have a sudden, severe headache or stomach ache
  • may have swallowed something poisonous

What is a severe headache or stomach ache

Severe pain:

  • always there and so bad it’s hard to think or talk
  • you can’t sleep
  • it’s very hard to move, get out of bed, go to the bathroom, wash or dress

Moderate pain:

  • always there
  • makes it hard to concentrate or sleep
  • you can manage to get up, wash or dress

Mild pain:

  • comes and goes
  • is annoying but doesn’t stop you doing things like going to work

How long diarrhoea and vomiting last

You don't normally need to see your GP if you have diarrhoea or vomiting or both as it should get better on its own.

Visiting your GP surgery can put others at risk. It's best to call your GP or GP out of hours service if you're concerned or feel you need advice.

While the symptoms can be alarming for parents/carers, it is important to note that:

For children:

  • diarrhoea usually lasts 5-7 days, and in most children it stops within 2 weeks
  • vomiting, usually lasts  1 or 2 days, and in most children it stops within 3 days

For adults:

  • diarrhoea lasting for up to 10 days is not unusual
  • vomiting usually lasts for 2 days

Causes of diarrhoea and vomiting

You probably won't know exactly what the cause is, but the main causes of diarrhoea and vomiting are treated in the same way.

They're usually due to:

Other causes of diarrhoea

Other causes of vomiting

  • pregnancy
  • migraine
  • labyrinthitis
  • medicines – check the leaflet to see if vomiting is a side effect
  • reflux – where a baby brings feeds back up ("spitting up")
  • other infections – such as a urinary tract infection (UTI)

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information, read terms and conditions.

This page was reviewed November 2018

This page is due for review July 2019

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