Finding blood in your vomit can be a scary thing. It’s not a common occurrence for most people, so they often have no idea what is causing this particular type of reaction. There are a range of potential triggers for vomiting blood, some of which can be quite serious, so it’s important to understand what to look for and how to respond if it happens.
Signs And Symptoms
The condition of vomiting blood is called hematemesis. This occurs when a significant amount of blood appears in a person’s vomit. The blood is often bright red or dark red in color. However, it may also appear as black or dark brown, with a similar appearance to coffee grounds. Vomiting blood can refer to vomit that contains blood mixed with other materials, such as food, or solely blood in the vomit. It’s important to note that spitting up or coughing up small flecks or streaks of blood is not considered to be hematemesis. This particular condition refers only to large amounts of noticeable blood in vomit.
There are several possible causes for vomiting blood, many of which are quite serious or potentially fatal. Because vomiting is the forcing of the stomach contents up through the esophagus, many of the causes of vomiting blood originate in either the stomach or the esophagus. Potential causes and triggers include:
- Prolonged or vigorous vomiting
- Swallowing blood
- Taking aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Peptic ulcers
- Bleeding ulcers in the stomach, first part of the small intestine or esophagus
- High blood pressure in the portal vein
- Defects in the blood vessels of the gastrointestinal tract
- Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
- Inflammation of the stomach (gastritis)
- Inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis)
- Inflammation of the first part of the small intestine (duodenitis)
- A tear in the esophagus due to vomiting or coughing
- Breakdown of the tissue lining in the stomach (gastric erosions)
- Enlarged veins in the esophagus
- Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
- Benign tumors in the stomach or esophagus
- Alcoholic hepatitis
- Pancreatic cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Acute liver failure
The causes listed above typically apply more to adults than to children. However, children and infants may also be susceptible to vomiting in the blood. Some of the possible causes for vomiting blood in children and infants include:
- Birth defects
- Swallowing blood
- Swallowing an object
- Blood clotting disorders
Seeking Medical Attention
Because so many of the possible causes of vomiting blood are serious or life-threatening, it is important to seek medical attention right away if you experience this condition. It’s important to find out what the trigger for the vomited blood is in order to treat the underlying cause and prevent significant blood loss or other complications.
In certain cases, you may require emergency medical assistance when vomiting blood. Signs to watch for are dizziness, lightheadedness, rapid or shallow breathing, fainting, confusion, blurred vision, nausea, low urine output and cold, clammy skin. If you experience any of these symptoms when vomiting blood, call 911 right away as the causes for your condition may be very serious.
When seeking medical treatment for this condition, doctors will ask a range of questions to help determine the cause of the blood in the vomit. Common subject matter for these questions include the color of the blood, the amount of blood in the vomit, other symptoms are present, any medications have recently been taken and whether the patient has recently undergone any surgery or dental work.
Treatment for the condition depends upon what the underlying cause is. In order to determine the trigger, doctors may need to use a series of tests, including x-rays, rectal examinations, blood work or a nuclear medicine scan. In some cases, doctors insert a tube through the nose and into the stomach to look for blood and potential causes for the blood in the vomit.
Once a cause has been determined, doctors may use blood transfusions, intravenous fluids, medications to decrease stomach acid to treat the condition. In more serious cases, surgery may be required to repair damage, remove a tumor or perform other work to stop the patient from vomiting blood and to treat the underlying cause.