University Health Service

Download Easy-to-Print PDF Diarrhea and vomiting are sometimes referred to as the "stomach flu," however influenza virus is a respiratory infection and does not typically cause vomiting or diarrhea. (See also Flu and Vaccination.)

If you experience diarrhea or vomiting, you may wish to consult your health care provider. To use UHS, see Schedule an Appointment, and remember, calling could save you a visit.

On this page:

Woman looking downCauses include:

  • Bacteria, viruses or parasites
  • Food poisoning
  • Consumption of irritating food, drink or medication
  • Pregnancy
  • Overeating or overdrinking (especially alcohol)
  • Stress or anxiety

Some people call it 'stomach flu,' but influenza virus does not typically cause vomiting or diarrhea. Getting a flu shot does not protect you from the most common causes of vomiting and diarrhea. (See Flu and Vaccination for more information).

Viral gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines) can spread easily from person to person. With some viral gastroenteritis (e.g. norovirus), 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 (see Prevention).

Transmission takes place by:

  • Touching contaminated objects then touching your mouth
  • Consuming drinks or food contaminated by ill food handlers
  • Having close contact with another person who is infected, for example by providing health care or sharing food or utensils

Symptoms:

Symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. 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 attention. Dehydration is most serious for the very young, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. See also When to Seek Medical Care.

Self-care for adults:

BRAT dietFor vomiting, follow these instructions in order:

  1. Do not eat or drink anything for several hours after vomiting.
  2. Sip small amounts of water or suck ice chips every 15 minutes for 3-4 hours.
  3. Next sip clear liquids every 15 minutes for 3-4 hours. Examples include water, sports drinks, flat soda, clear broth, gelatin, flavored ice or apple juice. Do not drink citrus juices or milk. Increase fluids as tolerated.
  4. 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 alcohol, caffeine, fats/oils, spicy food, milk or cheese.
  5. 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 a back-up 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 the UHS Pharmacy according to package directions. Follow a bland diet (see 4 above). After the passage of a soft, formed stool, you can resume a normal diet.

If you are sick in a Residence Hall:

You can ask a friend or Resident Advisor to bring you food from the dining room. See information about our Feel Better Meals. 

If you have questions or concerns about your food intake, you may call the Dining Services dietician at 734-647-2614 or send email to eatsmart@umich.edu .

It's a good idea to let Housing staff and your parent/s know if you are ill. If you need assistance, contact your Resident Advisor or Community Center. 

If you are sick and work in food service, you should contact your supervisor.

When to seek medical care:

Anytime you experience vomiting, diarrhea or nausea and want to seek medical care, please do so. Following are situations when it is critical to seek medical care. See More Information for how to get advice or medical care at UHS.

Seek medical care if:

  • You are unable to keep down liquids or food for more than 24 hours.
  • You have fever (101º F or 38.3º C or higher) with abdominal pain (may include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea).
  • You have diarrhea for more than 3 days or without gradual improvement over 5 days.
  • You have signs of dehydration, for example dizziness, decreased urination (no urination at least every 8 hours) or severe fatigue.
  • You have bloody diarrhea.
  • You have abdominal pain that is not relieved by vomiting and/or diarrhea (that is, abdominal pain is unrelated to episodes of vomiting or diarrhea).
  • You have insulin-dependent diabetes and experience vomiting, diarrhea or nausea.
  • You are unable to take medications that you usually take.
  • You have recently traveled to a country that poses a health risk.

Wide EyesPrevention breaks the chain of transmission:

Clean your hands frequently with soap and water, especially after toilet visits and before eating. (Note that alcohol-based hand cleaner does not kill C. diff bacteria.)

Don't share eating utensils, drinking glasses, toothbrushes or other personal items.

Flush vomit and feces in the toilet and make sure that the surrounding area is clean.

Throughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces including doorknobs and faucets immediately after an episode of illness. Clean first, then spray the area with a disinfectant cleaner (e.g. Lysol) or wipe with a disinfectant such as bleach (see Video for instructions).

Wash soiled clothing or linens in hot water.

Place contaminated waste in a plastic bag, tie the bag and put it in a trash receptacle.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

Stay home when you are sick.

Avoid close contact with people who are sick, if possible.

More information:

To use UHS, see Schedule an Appointment. Appointments are required for most medical services, however options are available for urgent concerns. 

UHS offers Nurse Advice by Phone, day and night, which may save you a trip to UHS or the ER.

UM faculty and staff may contact the UM Occupational Safety and Environmental Health at 734-647-1143.

Read more about viral gastroenteritis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .