Vomiting in adults

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Nausea and vomiting in adults isn’t usually a sign of anything serious. It tends to only last 1 or 2 days. 

Vomiting is the body’s way of getting rid 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 gastroenteritis. This is an infection of the gut usually caused by bacteria or a virus. It’ll normally improve within a few days. 

Vomiting can occasionally be a sign of something more serious, such as appendicitis.  

There is a separate page on vomiting in children and babies

Vomiting self-help guide

Complete our self-help guide to check your symptoms and find out what to do next.

Phone 999 or go to A&E if:

You’re vomiting and you also have:

  • sudden, severe abdominal (tummy) pain
  • severe chest pain
  • blood in your vomit or what looks like coffee granules
  • have green or yellow-green vomit
  • a stiff neck and high temperature (fever)
  • a sudden, severe headache that’s unlike any headache you’ve had before 
  • swallowed something poisonous, or think you may have 
  • have a stiff neck and pain when looking at bright lights

Speak to your GP if:

  • you’ve been vomiting repeatedly for more than a day or two
  • you’re unable to keep down any fluids because you’re vomiting repeatedly 
  • you have signs 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 you became ill
  • you experience episodes of vomiting frequently 
  • you’re worried about your vomiting and are feeling very unwell
  • you have diabetes and have been vomiting a lot, particularly if you take insulin as it can affect your blood sugar level 

Common causes of vomiting in adults

Gastroenteritis 

If you have diarrhoea as well as vomiting, it’s likely you have gastroenteritis. This is one of the most common causes of vomiting in adults. 

It’s often caused by: 

Your immune system will usually fight off the infection after a few days. 

Pregnancy

Pregnant women often experience nausea and vomiting, particularly during the early stages of pregnancy. This is often called morning sickness but it can happen at any time of the day.

Migraines

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

Pain relief, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, can sometimes help control the pain. Your GP can prescribe anti-sickness medicine to help prevent vomiting. 

Labyrinthitis 

If you also feel dizzy, or feel like you’re spinning (vertigo), you may have an inner ear infection called labyrinthitis

Labyrinthitis will usually improve over a few days. Your GP can prescribe medication to reduce your symptoms if needed. 

Motion sickness

Nausea and vomiting when travelling could be a sign of motion sickness.

You can try:

  • looking at the horizon
  • distracting yourself by listening to music

Appendicitis

As well as vomiting, appendicitis can cause severe pain in your abdomen (tummy). You should phone 999 for an ambulance if you experience pain that suddenly becomes worse and spreads across your abdomen. These are signs that you appendix may have burst.

If you have appendicitis, you will often need surgery to remove your appendix.

Other causes of vomiting in adults

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

Looking after yourself at home

Mostly, you can take care of yourself at home until you feel better.

Do

  • keep taking small sips of water frequently so you don’t become dehydrated
  • drink a sweet drink such as fruit juice to replace lost sugar, unless it make you feel sick
  • eat salty snacks, such as crisps, which can help replace lost salt
  • try ginger (in supplements, biscuits or tea) – but check with your pharmacist or GP before using ginger supplements

Last updated:
29 May 2023

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