Diarrhoea and vomiting: causes, symptoms and prevention

Written by: Fit for Work team | Posted in: Blog

diarrhoea and vomitingDiarrhoea and vomiting can be caused by various things and is usually not serious, lasting one or two days. Diarrhoea is defined as passing frequent loose or watery stools.

Causes of diarrhoea and vomiting

The most common cause of diarrhoea is a bowel infection, known as gastroenteritis. This can be caused be a virus, such as norovirus, bacteria, which often come from contaminated foods, or a parasite.

Sometimes infections are caught during travel abroad, this is known as travellers’ diarrhoea.

Other causes include anxiety, certain medicines, a food allergy or intolerance, excessive consumption of alcohol or a long-term condition such as irritable bowel syndrome. Women who are pregnant may also experience vomiting and nausea during the early stages of their pregnancy.

What to do if you have diarrhoea and/or vomiting

Most cases of diarrhoea and vomiting (D&V) clear up after a few days, and do not need treatment. You should not go to work if you have D&V. If you have D&V you are at risk of becoming dehydrated, so you should ensure you drink little and often by taking small sips of water or by using an oral rehydration tablet. When you feel well enough, you should eat solid, easily digestible foods such as bread, soup, potatoes and rice. Ginger can also help relieve nausea and vomiting.

When to seek medical help

Sometimes diarrhoea and vomiting can be signs of something more serious. Contact your GP if:

  • your vomit is green;
  • your stools are particularly dark or black or contain blood;
  • you lose weight during your period of D&V;
  • you are showing signs of dehydration e.g. having a rapid heartbeat, confusion, drowsiness, urinating less than normal, feeling lightheaded or dizzy;
  • the D&V lasts for more than a few days;
  • you have a fever over 38°.

If you have any of the following symptoms, you should seek emergency assistance (call 999 or go to A&E):

  • sudden, severe tummy pain;
  • a stiff neck and high temperature;
  • sudden, severe headache;
  • severe chest pain;
  • blood in your vomit.

Preventing diarrhoea and vomiting

Practising good hygiene is the best way to prevent D&V. Make sure that you:

  • wash your hands after using the toilet and before preparing or consuming food;
  • keep surfaces clean, particularly keyboards, phones and other computer equipment (take special care for shared equipment)
  • make sure food is cooked thoroughly;
  • store food correctly – keep food refrigerated if necessary and do not mix raw and cooked foods together in storage or when preparing foods (e.g. do not chop vegetables on the same board you have chopped raw meat on without washing the board first);
  • avoid sharing towels. 

Diarrhoea and vomiting and work

If you have gastroenteritis, you should not return to work until 48 hours have passed since the last incident of diarrhoea and vomiting as if you do so, you may pass on the infection on to others.

Fit for Work can advise on how to deal with D&V in the workplace. For more information, visit the Advice Hub or call the advice line on 0800 032 6235 (0800 032 6233 for advice in Welsh). Those in Scotland can call 0800 019 2211 or visit fitforworkscotland.scot.

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