Coffee Ground Vomitus

Written by The Healthline Editorial Team | Published on December 17, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, FACP on December 17, 2014


The term coffee ground vomitus describes vomit that looks like coffee grounds. This is a result of coagulated blood in the vomit. Vomiting blood is also known as hematemesis or coffee ground emesis.

The color of the vomited blood will vary depending on how long the blood was in your gastrointestinal system. If there is a delay in vomiting, the blood will appear dark red, brown, or black. Clotted blood within the vomit will make it appear like coffee grounds.

This is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. Be sure to note the time and amount you vomited, and anything that might have caused the vomiting. If possible, you should take a sample of the vomit to your doctor for further testing.

Seek care at an emergency room as soon as you begin vomiting blood. Call 911 for immediate medical care if you are vomiting large quantities of coffee-ground-like material and also experiencing:

  • unusually pale skin (pallor)
  • lightheadedness or fainting
  • dizziness
  • chest pain
  • bright red blood or large clots in the vomit
  • severe abdominal pain

What Causes Coffee Ground Vomitus?

Coffee ground vomitus may be a result of various conditions including alcohol abuse, ulcers, or internal bleeding. If you experience this symptom, it’s important that you visit a medical care center as soon as possible to get an accurate diagnosis.

Some possible causes of coffee ground vomitus include:

  • liver disease like alcoholic liver disease, cirrhosis, or liver cancer
  • cancer of esophagus, pancreas, or stomach
  • peptic or stomach ulcers
  • bleeding esophageal varices or enlarged veins in the esophagus
  • diseases such as the Ebola virus, hemophilia B, or yellow fever
  • gastritis or inflammation of the stomach
  • gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • glomerulonephritis (a type of kidney disease)
  • aspirin overdose

How Is Coffee Ground Vomitus Diagnosed?

An examination by a doctor is necessary whenever there is evidence of gastrointestinal bleeding, such as with coffee ground vomitus.

Your doctor may ask questions about your symptoms, other health conditions, and medications you may be taking. After reviewing your medical history and performing a physical examination, your doctor will order one or more tests to determine the cause of bleeding.

 In addition to X-rays and baseline blood tests, you may need to have the following tests.

  • an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy: a procedure where a small flexible scope with a camera is inserted down your esophagus
  • barium studies: a special X-ray that uses a contrast dye called barium (which you will swallow) to identify problems in your gastrointestinal tract
  • liver function studies: blood tests that identify any diseases or damage to your liver
  • fecal occult blood testing: test that  looks for blood in your stool
  • flexible sigmoidoscopy: a procedure where a small scope with a camera is inserted through the anus and into the colon and rectum

Your doctor will make a diagnosis based on these tests and begin a treatment plan to address your underlying condition. 

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