Sickness and diarrhoea
Diarrhoea and vomiting is usually caused by a stomach bug or food poisoning. It's rarely serious and should pass within a week.
Check if you have a stomach bug or food poisoning
Symptoms of a stomach bug or food poisoning include:
- sudden diarrhoea
- feeling sick (nausea)
- being sick (vomiting)
- a stomach ache or cramps
- a high temperature (fever)
Symptoms usually start a few hours or days after picking up a bug.
How you can treat sickness and diarrhoea yourself
Sickness and diarrhoea should get better on its own within a week. You can usually treat it at home.
To ease the symptoms:
- drink lots of fluids to avoid dehydration, such as water and squash – if you're well hydrated, your pee should be light yellow or clear
- give your baby breast or bottle feeds as usual if you or your baby are ill
- stay at home and get plenty of rest
- return to your normal diet as soon as you feel able to eat
- take paracetamol to reduce pain or a fever
- drink fizzy drinks or fruit juice – these can make your symptoms worse
Sickness and diarrhoea can spread easily to others
You're most infectious from when your symptoms start until 2 days after they've passed. Stay off school or work until your symptoms have stopped for 2 days.
To avoid spreading the infection:
- wash your hands with soap and water frequently
- wash dirty clothing and bedding separately on a hot wash
- clean toilet seats, flush handles, taps, surfaces and door handles every day
- prepare food for other people, if possible
- share towels, flannels, cutlery and utensils
- use a swimming pool until 2 weeks after your symptoms stop
Your pharmacist can help with sickness and diarrhoea
Speak to a pharmacist if you have signs of dehydration, such as peeing less than usual or having dark, strong-smelling pee.
They may recommend using sachets that you mix with water to help you stay hydrated, called oral rehydration solutions.
If you need immediate, short-term relief from diarrhoea, your pharmacist may recommend medicine that can help.
How long sickness and diarrhoea lasts
In adults and children:
- diarrhoea usually lasts 5 to 7 days
- vomiting usually lasts 1 to 2 days
Call your GP surgery or 111 if:
- you're still dehydrated despite trying oral rehydration solutions from a pharmacy
- your baby has any signs of dehydration, such as not producing tears or having fewer wet nappies
- you're vomiting constantly and can't keep down fluids
- you have bloody diarrhoea or bleeding from your bottom
- diarrhoea doesn't stop after 7 days
- vomiting doesn't stop after 2 days
- you're worried about yourself or your child
It’s best to call rather than visit your GP surgery because sickness and diarrhoea can spread to others easily.
Causes of sickness and diarrhoea
You probably won't know exactly what's causing your symptoms, but the main causes of sickness, diarrhoea and vomiting are treated in the same way.
Common causes include:
- gastroenteritis – inflammation of the gut caused by a virus or bacteria
- norovirus, or the "vomiting bug"
- food poisoning, such as campylobacter, salmonella or E. coli – caught from eating food that hasn't been stored, prepared or cooked properly
- infections that you can get while travelling abroad, such as dysentery and cholera
If you can’t speak to your GP or don’t know what to do next.