Vomiting blood, also known as hematemesis, indicates a defect in the upper part of the digestive tract, which includes the esophagus, stomach, and parts of the duodenum (small intestine).
Vomiting blood can be a symptom of a minor or chronic disease that requires immediate medical care.
The most frequent cause of vomiting blood is infections and inflammation. There’s a range of other life-threatening conditions discussed below that can cause you to vomit blood.
What Causes Hematemesis?
Hematemesis is caused by bleeding in the upper part of the digestive tract, including the esophagus, stomach, and parts of the duodenum (small intestine). The common causes of hematemesis include:
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
When GERD occurs, acid from your stomach flows into your esophagus, where it causes irritation and inflammation of the lining.
In most cases, a stomach ulcer develops on the stomach or in the small intestine lining (duodenum). An ulcer occurs when stomach acid destroys the lining of the digestive tract. This can lead to arteries being damaged and cause vomiting of blood.
Esophageal varices occur when clots in your liver disrupt the normal flow of blood in your body. When blood flow is restricted, smaller blood vessels become tasked with redirecting blood flow.
When this happens, the vessels become swollen and may burst, leading to intense bleeding.
Mallory-Weiss tears are often associated with excessive intake of alcohol. It is triggered by prolonged coughing, which causes the rupture of the esophagus lining.
A severe nosebleed may cause some people to swallow blood. Vomiting blood can result from this. You may also pass it out with your poop, causing it to appear black.
Other health conditions that may cause you to vomit blood include long-term use of Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), hemophilia, and anemia.
Symptoms of Hematemesis
The main symptom of hematemesis is the presence of blood which may be bright red, brown, and black in your vomit. Other frequently diagnosed symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling or bloating
- Blood-streaked stools
- Fainting or lethargy
Based on the symptoms you provide, your doctor will diagnose your condition. If possible, take a small sample of your vomit to your doctors, as this may help your doctor understand the source and severity of your condition.
Your doctor will carry out a physical examination and ask a few questions about your condition. If in doubt, your doctor may order advanced tests to rule out other underlying conditions and confirm the bleeding source.
Advance tests your doctor may order include:
- Nuclear medicine scan
- X-ray scans
- Blood test
- CT scans
- MRI scans
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scans
If your doctors suspect a different condition is responsible for vomiting blood, they may perform a biopsy for proper diagnosis.
Treatment for Hematemesis
Hematemesis can be a life-threatening condition if left untreated. As a medical emergency, you will need to visit a hospital for diagnosis and an appropriate treatment course.
If your condition is mild, your doctor may prescribe a few medications to help stop the bleed; however, if you have lost a lot of blood, your doctor may recommend a blood transfusion to replace lost blood.
In severe cases, a gastroenterologist may perform an upper endoscopy to treat the source of bleeding. You may need surgery in life-threatening conditions such as bowel or stomach perforation.
Complications of Vomiting Blood
Vomiting blood can lead to other health issues such as anemia. Anemia is a deficiency of red blood cells in the body.
It is possible to have diarrhea if blood is not entirely vomited from the stomach. Diarrhea is usually black and termed melena. If you vomit blood, you may also experience shock, which can be fatal and require immediate medical attention.
Bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract is the most common cause of bloody vomit. Therefore, you should not ignore it because of its potential life-threatening results.
Now that you understand the many causes and symptoms of hematemesis, it will be easier to recognize this medical emergency when you or someone you love is bleeding.
You can communicate more clearly with your doctor and advocate for your loved ones.