Fitness Facts: Diarrhea and vomiting
By Connie Colbert
Director, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic
The causes of vomiting and diarrhea are too numerous to count, but here are a few of the most common:
- Bacteria, parasites, viruses (most commonly Norovirus)
- Food poisoning; for example, from food that has been improperly stored
- Consumption of irritating food, drink or medication
- Overeating or overdrinking (especially alcohol)
- Stress and anxiety
- Taking antibiotics recently
Symptoms may include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever. People may feel very sick and vomit many times a day.
Most people improve within three days. However, sometimes people become dehydrated and need medical treatment. Dehydration is the most serious complication.
How do I get the virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea?
Norovirus, a common cause of infectious outbreaks, can easily spread from person to person. People are contagious from the moment they begin to feel ill until at least three days after recovery. Good hygiene is critical to break the chain of transmission.
Specific means of transmission are:
- Having close contact with another person who is infected; for example, by providing health care or sharing food or utensils
- Touching contaminated objects, then touching your mouth
- Consuming contaminated food or drinks
What do I do if I get sick, and when should I be concerned?
For vomiting, follow these instructions in order:
- Do not eat or drink anything for several hours after vomiting.
- Sip small amounts of water or suck ice chips every 15 minutes for 3-4 hours.
- Next, sip clear liquids every 15 minutes for 3-4 hours. Examples include water, sports drinks, flat soda, clear broth, gelatin, flavored ice, popsicles and apple juice. Do not drink citrus juices or milk. Increase fluids as tolerated.
- When you can tolerate clear liquids for several hours without vomiting and if you’re hungry, try eating small amounts of bland foods. Try foods such as bananas, rice, applesauce, dry toast, soda crackers (these foods are called BRAT diet). For 24-48 hours after the last episode of vomiting, avoid foods that can irritate or may be difficult to digest, such as alcohol, caffeine, fats/oils, spicy food, milk or cheese.
- When you can tolerate bland food, you can resume your normal diet.
Retake medications if vomiting occurs within 30 minutes of taking usual medication. If you vomited after taking oral contraceptive pills, use another contraception method for the rest of the month.
If diarrhea is the only symptom, try Imodium, a non-prescription (over-the-counter) medication available at any local pharmacy or drug store, and stick with the BRAT diet. After the passage of a soft, formed stool, you can resume a normal diet. Call for medical advice if you have no improvement within 48 hours after starting Imodium.
Prevention (as always) is the key to limit transmission of an illness. Here are a few tips:
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water and wash for at least 15 seconds, especially after toilet visits and before eating. Hand-washing is more effective than hand sanitizer against viruses; use alcohol-based sanitizer when hand-washing is not possible.
- Don’t share eating utensils, drinking glasses or bottles, toothbrushes or other personal items.
- Sharing keyboards and other items? Be sure to wash your hands and clean surfaces. Using wipes with bleach helps.
- Immediately after an episode of illness, flush vomit and feces in the toilet and make sure that the surrounding area is clean.
- Before cleaning, put on disposable gloves if possible.
- Place contaminated waste in a plastic bag, tie the bag and put it in a trash receptacle.
- Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces, including doorknobs and faucets. Clean first, then spray the area with a disinfectant cleaner (e.g., Lysol) or clean with a wipe that has bleach. Be mindful that bleach can harm fabrics. Dispose of used cleaning items in the trash.
- Keep soiled clothing separate from other clothing, and wash soiled clothing or linens in hot water. Also, use pre-wash cycle if it’s available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick and for 48 hours after the last episode.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick, if possible.
You should call for medical advice when you:
- Can’t keep down liquids or food for more than 24 hours
- Have fever (101 degrees Fahrenheit or 38.3 degrees Celsius or higher) with abdominal pain (may include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea)
- Have diarrhea for more than three days or without gradual improvement over five days
- Have signs of dehydration – for example, lightheadedness, decreased urination (no urination at least every eight hours) or severe fatigue
- Took antibiotics recently
- Have bloody diarrhea
- Have abdominal pain that is not relieved by vomiting and/or diarrhea (that is, abdominal pain is unrelated to episodes of vomiting or diarrhea)
- Have insulin-dependent diabetes and experience vomiting, diarrhea or nausea
- Are unable to take medications that you usually take
- Recently traveled to a country that poses a health risk
If you are concerned and/or have any of the above symptoms, contact the Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic at 602-639-6215, call your primary care provider or go to a local urgent care or ER if necessary.