Diarrhea and vomiting are very common symptoms . A person may either suffer from only one of these symptoms or both at the same time. Vomiting and diarrhea may arise suddenly and usually lasts for a few days at most. In many cases, episodes of diarrhea and vomiting are self-limiting, and do not last long. However, in other cases, they may worsen and indicate a serious underlying condition that needs medical attention. This is especially the case when both vomiting and diarrhea occur simultaneously, suddenly and are intense.
Diarrhea and vomiting may also be accompanied by other symptoms. Some of the commonly associated symptoms are:
- Abdominal pain
These symptoms vary depending on the underlying cause. Dehydration is a common complication due to the fluid and electrolyte loss with both vomiting and diarrhea.
Also read on vomiting clear fluid.
Causes of Sudden Vomiting and Diarrhea
Most of the time vomiting and diarrhea are due to gastrointestinal conditions. However, there are instances where there may be no problem with the digestive system despite the presence of symptoms like vomiting. The latter may be seen with conditions like poisoning, drug side effects or radiation exposure.
Females of reproductive age should always suspect pregnancy when vomiting suddenly arises, especially if there is no fever or other symptoms of an infection which is the common cause of vomiting and diarrhea. Sometimes the changes in the body with pregnancy can also result in gatrointestinal disturbances like diarrhea which is not considered characteristic of morning sickness.
Also read on dehydration from pregnancy vomiting.
The appendix is a small pouch-shaped structure that is attached to the beginning of the large intestine. It has no known function. However, inflammation of the appendix (known as appendicitis) is a serious condition that causes severe abdominal pain (in the region of the belly button and the right side of the abdomen), vomiting, and fever. Left untreated, the appendix can rupture, leading to whole body infection (sepsis).
Also known as stomach flu, gastroenteritis is a common infection of the intestine caused by consumption of contaminated food and water. It is characterized by vomiting, diarrhea, low-grade fever and cramps. The condition usually resolves on its own in a few days.
Malaria is a common mosquito-borne disease in the tropics. It is caused by the protozoan parasite, Plasmodium. Vomiting may accompany other characteristic symptoms such as fever, chills, sweating and headaches.
Meningococcinemia is an infection caused by the bacteria, Neisseria meningitidis. This is the same bacteria that causes meningitis – inflammation of the lining around the brain. When the bacteria remains in the blood, the condition is called meningococcemia. Nausea and vomiting may be present along with other symptoms such as fever, headache, anxiety, and rashes.
Vomiting and diarrhea may also be a feature of opportunistic infections that afflict individuals with compromised immune functions. Affected individuals include those with HIV infection or AIDS, cancer, and those who are on immune-suppressant medications.
Peritonitis refers to an inflammation of the peritoneum, which is a thin sheet of tissue that lines the organs in the abdomen. The most common cause of peritonitis is bacterial or fungal infection. Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms.
Septicemia refers to a spread of bacterial infection throughout the body via the bloodstream. This is a life-threatening condition.
- Antibiotics: Diarrhea is also associated with the use of certain antibiotics such as ampicillin, cephalosporins and clindamycin. Anti-viral and anti-fungal medications may also cause diarrhea.
- Antacids: Antacids are chemicals that are used to relieve heartburn and indigestion by neutralizing the high acidity in the stomach. Antacids containing magnesium may cause diarrhea as a side-effect.
- Chemotherapeutic agents: Chemotherapeutic agents (also known as cytotoxic drugs) are used for the treatment of cancers. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are common side-effects of chemotherapy.
- Laxatives: Laxatives are used to relieve constipation by loosening the stools and increasing bowel movements. Diarrhea could be a side effect of laxative use.
- Narcotics: Sudden withdrawal symptoms associated with stopping narcotic abuse include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
- NSAIDs: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly used for the treatment of pain and inflammation. However, use of these drugs is also associated with a host of gastrointestinal side-effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and bleeding in the stomach.
- Proton pump inhibitors: Proton-pump inhibitors are used to treat acidity by reducing the amount of acid produced by the stomach. Long-term use of proton-pump inhibitors is associated with gastrointestinal adverse effects, presumably caused by alterations of normal flora.
Foods and drinks
- Indigestion: Indigestion refers to pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen that is often associated with stomach ulcers, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and adverse gall bladder conditions. Nausea and vomiting are frequently included in the symptoms of indigestion.
- Food intolerance and allergies: Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are also associated with food allergies and food intolerance. Lactose intolerance is one example of a food intolerance (to dairy products) that is frequently associated with gastrointestinal problems. Allergies to seafood are associated with sudden onset of vomiting and diarrhea.
- Food poisoning: Food poisoning is caused by consumption of food that is contaminated with pathogenic bacteria, viruses, or toxins. Sudden bouts of abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea as characteristic features of food poisoning. The condition is usually self-limiting and resolves on its own without medications. However, proper hydration must be maintained during recovery.
- Alcohol: Nausea and vomiting is also associated with excessive alcohol intake.
Sudden bouts of vomiting and diarrhea are also associated with intake of a variety of environmental toxins. These include heavy metals, nicotine, plant toxins, seafood toxins, and automobile antifreeze. Exposure to chlorinated water in swimming pools may also lead to nausea and vomiting.
Some causes of vomiting and diarrhea may not have a physical cause. Eating disorders and intense emotions (such as fear and anxiety) can also cause symptoms of stomach upset.
Severe pain due to headaches, migraines, or any other cause, can also result in nausea and vomiting.
Apart from injury to the gastrointestinal tract, head and abdominal injuries could also result in sudden vomiting.
Other causes of sudden vomiting and diarrhea include diabetic ketoacidosis, heart attack, motion sickness, uremia with kidney disorders and even intense physical activity.