University at Albany

Nausea, Vomiting and Diarrhea

Most causes of nausea vomiting and diarrhea are caused by a simple virus that resolves on its own within 3-5 days in most cases.

With a viral gastroenteritis most people’s vomiting resolves within 12-24 hours. The diarrhea may last as long as 3-5 days.

When is a physician evaluation warranted?

Though most cases of nausea, vomiting or diarrhea resolve with the simple measures noted below, a simple virus may cause prolonged symptoms, or the symptoms may be due to other causes.

See a physician for any of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Vomiting lasting more than 12-24 hours
  • Vomiting blood
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Diarrhea lasting more than 3-5 days without improvement
  • Concern of significant dehydration
  • History of recent travel outside of the country (increased risk of a bacterial infection)
  • History of recent antibiotics (increased risk of a bacterial overgrowth which would require treatment).
  • Severe abdominal pain

 What to do for a viral gastroenteritis:

  • If the above symptoms are not present, the diagnosis is most likely a simple viral gastroenteritis.
  • Viral gastroenteritis resolves on its own within 3-5 days. There are no prescription medications that can resolve it any quicker.
  • Avoid milk products until symptoms resolve.
    • Though somewhat controversial there is some evidence that the symptoms may be prolonged by dairy products so avoiding these foods for a few days may be helpful.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
    • The best fluid is a sports drink diluted to half strength. It provides water, electrolytes and some calories in the form of sugar. Full strength sport’s drinks may worsen diarrhea due to their high sugar content.
    • Watch for signs of dehydration such as dark concentrated urine, decreased urination and lightheadedness. These symptoms may require physician evaluation and possibly intravenous (IV) fluids.
  • If able to eat, follow a BRAT diet initially.
    • If you are hungry, before trying heavy foods it may be wise to start with simple easily digested foods such those in the BRAT diet. If these foods are tolerated, then the diet can be advanced as symptoms allow.
    • BRAT Diet:
      • B- Bananas
      • R-Rice
      • A- Apple sauce
      • T-Toast (dry at first)
  • Try Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate).
    • This inexpensive medication can relive the symptoms of a viral gastroenteritis.
    • Please be aware that Pepto-Bismol can temporarily cause a darkening of the tongue and stool. This darkening resolves with discontinuation of the Pepto-Bismol.
    • Don’t take Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate) if you’ve ever had an allergy to aspirin or any other product that contains salicylates.
  • Wash your hands frequently and especially after using the bathroom to prevent spreading the infection to others.