Nausea and Vomiting in Adults Explained

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Nausea and vomiting in adults isn't usually a sign of anything serious and typically only lasts a matter of one or two days.

Vomiting is the body’s way of ridding itself of harmful substances from the stomach, or it may be a reaction to something that has irritated the gut.

One of the most common causes of vomiting in adults is gastroentiritis. This is an infection of the gut usually caused by bacteria or a virus, which will normally improve within a matter of a few days.

However, vomiting can occasionally be a sign of something more serious, such as appendicitis. If you are feeling very unwell and are worried about your vomiting, we recommend you see a doctor.


When should I contact a doctor?

Contact your doctor if your vomiting falls into any of the following categories:

  • you've been vomiting repeatedly for more than a day or two.
  • you're unable to keep down any fluids because you are vomiting repeatedly.
  • your vomit is green (this could mean you are bringing up a fluid called bile, which suggests you may have a blockage in your bowel).
  • you have sign of severe dehydration, such as confusion, a rapid heartbeat, sunken eyes and passing little or no urine.
  • you've lost a lot of weight since becoming ill.
  • your experience frequent episodes of vomiting.


You should also see your doctor if you have diabetes and have been vomiting persistently, particularly if you need to take insulin. This is because prolonged vomiting can affect your blood sugar levels.


When to seek emergency help

Occasionally, vomiting can be a sign of a more serious problem.

Visit your nearest hospital's emergency room if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • sudden and severe (sharp) abdominal pain.
  • severe chest pain.
  • blood in your vomit or what looks like coffee granules.
  • a stiff neck and a high fever.
  • severe headache and sudden migraines.
  • or your believe you may have swallowed something toxic or poisonous.


Common causes of vomiting in adults


If you have diarrhoea and vomiting, it's likely you have gastro. This is usually one of the most common causes of vomiting.

This is usually because of a virus. Your immune system will usually fight off the infection after a few days. Please read Treating Gastroenteritis to understand what you need to do.



Pregnant women typically experience nausea and vomiting regularly, particularly during the first few months of pregnancy. This is often called "morning sickness", although it can occur throughout the day.

In most cases, morning sickness will develop at some point during the first three months of pregnancy and will pass by about weeks 16-20. 



If you have recorring episodes of vomiting along with intense, throbbing headaches that last for a few hours to days at a time, you may be experiencing migraines.

Please read our guide to treating headaches and managing migraines  to understand what you can do combat and manage these episodes.



If vomiting is accompanied by dizziness and feelings of vertigo (spinning and disorientation), it may be caused by an inner ear infection - labyrinthitis.

Labyrinthitis will usually improve over a few days, and a doctor can prescribe medication to reduce these symptoms, if required.


Motion sickness

Nausea and vomiting ca sometimes occur while travelling. This could be motion sickness. 

Symptoms can be improved by using a technique that involves fixing your eyes on the horizon or distracting yourself by listening to music. Medication can also be sought that can improve and treat motion sickness, if required.



Appendicitis can cause vomiting and severe tummy pain. If you experience severe and sharp stomach pain or worse then immediately present at your nearest hospital's emergency room. These may be signs of a burst appendix.


Other causes of vomiting

Vomiting in adults can also be caused by a number of other things, including:

  • certain medicines, such as antibiotics or opioid painkillers.
  • drinking too much alcohol.
  • kidney infection.
  • a blockage in your bowel, which may be caused by a hernia or gallstones.
  • chemo or radiotherapy.
  • inflammation of the gallbladder.


Taking care of yourself while at home

In most cases, you won't need any specific treatment and you can easily take care of yourself at home until you feel better.

The most important thing you can do is to keep taking small sips of water frequently so you don't become dehydrated. Mainting fluids is the best way to combat and manage vomiting.

A sweet drink such as fruit juice can be useful for replacing lost sugar, although you should avoid sweet drinks if they make you feel sick. Salty snacks, such as crisps, can help replace lost salt.

You may also find ginger helps to relieve your nausea and vomiting. And of course rest and taking it easy will help until you feel better.