The upper GI (gastrointestinal) tract includes the mouth, throat, esophagus (swallowing tube), stomach and the duodenum (first part of the small intestine). Blood that is vomited may come from any of these places.
Vomiting that is very forceful or continues for a very long time may cause a tear in the small blood vessels of the throat. This may produce streaks of blood in the vomit.
Swollen veins in the walls of the lower part of the esophagus, and sometimes the stomach, may begin to bleed. These veins (called varices) are present in people with severe liver damage.
Other causes may include:
Bleeding ulcer in the stomach, first part of the small intestine, or esophagus
Blood clotting disorders
Defects in the blood vessels of the GI tract
Swelling, irritation, or inflammation of the esophagus lining (esophagitis) or the stomach lining (gastritis)
Swallowing blood (for example, after a nosebleed)
Tumors of the mouth, throat, stomach or esophagus
Get medical attention right away. Vomiting blood can be a result of a serious medical problem.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider or go to the emergency room if vomiting of blood occurs. You will need to be examined right away.
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
The provider will examine you and ask questions such as:
When did the vomiting begin?
Have you ever vomited blood before?
How much blood was in the vomit?
What color was the blood? (Bright or dark red or like coffee grounds?)
Have you had any recent nosebleeds, surgeries, dental work, vomiting, stomach problems, or severe coughing?
What other symptoms do you have?
What medical conditions do you have?
What medicines do you take?
Do you drink alcohol or smoke?
Tests that may be done include:
Blood work, such as a complete blood count (CBC), blood chemistries, blood clotting tests, and liver function tests
Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) (placing a lit tube through the mouth into the esophagus, stomach and duodenum
Nuclear medicine scan
Tube through the nose into the stomach and then applying suction to check for blood in the stomach
If you have vomited a lot of blood, you may need emergency treatment. This may include:
Administration of oxygen
EGD with application of laser or other modalities to stop the bleeding
Fluids through a vein
Medicines to decrease stomach acid
Possible surgery if bleeding does not stop
Goralnick E, Meguerdichian DA. Gastrointestinal bleeding. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 30.
Todd Eisner, MD, Private practice specializing in Gastroenterology, and Affiliate Assistant Professor, Florida Atlantic University School of Medicine, Boca Raton, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.