Nausea (feeling sick) and vomiting (being sick) in adults isn't usually a sign of anything serious. In most cases, you won't need any specific treatment and can take care of yourself at home until you feel better.
One of the most common causes of vomiting in adults is a gut infection (gastroenteritis), which usually only lasts one or two days.
However, vomiting can occasionally be a sign of a more serious problem and may require emergency help.
Find separate information about vomiting in children and babies.
When to get medical advice
Try to avoid going to your doctor because if your vomiting is caused by an infection it can spread to others very easily.
If you're feeling very unwell or are worried about your vomiting, call your doctor.
You should also get medical advice if:
- you've been vomiting repeatedly for more than 48 hours and it's not improving
- you're unable to keep down any fluids
- you have signs of severe dehydration – such as dizziness and passing little or no urine
- your vomit is green (this could mean you're bringing up bile, which suggests you may have a blockage in your bowel – see below)
- you've lost a lot of weight since you became ill
- you experience episodes of vomiting frequently
When to get emergency help
Call for an ambulance, or go to your nearest hospital accident and emergency (A&E) if you also have:
- sudden, severe stomach pain – this may be a sign of appendicitis
- severe chest pain
- blood in your vomit or what looks like coffee granules
- a stiff neck and high temperature (fever)
- a sudden, severe headache that's unlike any headache you've had before
- diabetes and have been vomiting persistently – particularly if you need to take insulin
You should also get emergency help if you think you've swallowed something poisonous.
Looking after yourself at home
The most important thing you can do is to keep taking small sips of water so you don't become dehydrated.
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. This is available as supplements, or can be found in ginger biscuits and ginger tea. Check with your pharmacist or doctor before using ginger supplements.
Common causes of vomiting in adults
The most common causes of nausea and vomiting in adults include:
- gastroenteritis – this is most likely to be the cause if you also have diarrhoea; read about treating gastroenteritis
- pregnancy – pregnant women often have nausea and vomiting during the early stages of pregnancy; read about morning sickness, including things you can do to help reduce your symptoms
- migraines – intense, throbbing headaches that last for a few hours to days at a time, read about treating migraines
- labyrinthitis – which also causes dizziness and a feeling of spinning (vertigo)
- motion sickness – nausea and vomiting associated with travelling
Vomiting in adults can also be caused by a number of other things, including: