Vomiting Blood

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What is vomiting blood?

Vomiting blood indicates the presence of bleeding in the digestive tract. The bleeding comes from the upper part of the digestive tract, including the esophagus, stomach, and part of the small intestine.

Vomiting blood may be caused by many different conditions, and the severity varies among individuals. The material vomited may be bright red or it may be dark colored like coffee grounds. The most common causes of vomiting blood are inflammation and infections, such as the stomach inflammation called gastritis. Other conditions that can cause vomiting blood include bleeding ulcers, inflammation of the esophagus, cancers, or ruptured blood vessels or tears in the esophagus.

The frequency of vomiting blood and the amount of blood vary greatly, depending on the source of the bleeding. People who have severe bleeding may see a large amount of blood after vomiting. If the blood loss continues, it can result in symptoms including lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting, or difficulty breathing.

People with severe vomiting of blood commonly require emergency hospitalization and treatment, which may include blood transfusions.

Left untreated, vomiting blood can result in a life-threatening loss of blood. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as pale skin or pallor and severe difficulty breathing, which may be combined with pale or blue lips, fast heart rate, and chest pain or pressure.

What other symptoms might occur with vomiting blood?

Vomiting blood may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the digestive tract may also involve other body systems.

Gastrointestinal symptoms that may occur along with vomiting blood

Vomiting blood may accompany other symptoms affecting the gastrointestinal system including:

Other symptoms that may occur along with vomiting blood

Vomiting blood may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, vomiting blood can be life threatening. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:

  • Abdominal pain or cramping

  • Change in level of consciousness or alertness such as passing out or unresponsiveness

  • Respiratory or breathing problems such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, labored breathing, wheezing, not breathing, or choking

  • Vomiting blood, rectal bleeding, or bloody stool

  • Weakness (loss of strength)

What causes vomiting blood?

Vomiting blood can result from many different conditions. Common causes of gastrointestinal bleeding include inflammation, infection, and underlying disease processes such as malignancy.

Vomiting blood may be caused by conditions in the esophagus such as esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus) or esophageal varices (swollen veins in the esophagus). Sometimes, a severe nosebleed can result in vomiting blood if the blood flows into the back of the throat and causes retching. Vomiting blood may also occur from internal injuries to the organs in the digestive tract following trauma.

Common causes of vomiting blood

Common causes of vomiting blood include:

  • Esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus)
  • Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining)
  • Peptic ulcer

Other causes of vomiting blood

Other causes of vomiting blood include:

  • Bleeding disorders, such as hemophilia or von Willebrand’s disease
  • Nosebleed (epistaxis)
  • Mallory-Weiss tear (laceration in the lining of the esophagus)
  • Medication effects (caused by medications such as warfarin, clopidogrel)

Serious or life-threatening causes of vomiting blood

In some cases, vomiting blood may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Esophageal cancer

  • Esophageal varices (swollen veins in the esophagus that have the potential to rupture)

  • Internal injury from trauma

  • Perforated peptic ulcer (bleeding stomach or intestinal ulcer)

  • Stomach cancer

Questions for diagnosing the cause of vomiting blood

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your vomiting blood including:

  • Have you been vomiting before the bleeding started?
  • When did you first begin vomiting blood?
  • Did you vomit material that looks like coffee grounds?
  • Have you ever had an ulcer, such as a peptic ulcer or a duodenal ulcer?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • How much alcohol do you consume?
  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of vomiting blood?

Because vomiting blood can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 7
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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