Coffee Ground Vomitus

Written by The Healthline Editorial Team
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on April 1, 2013

Coffee Ground Vomitus Overview

Coffee ground vomitus is vomit that looks like, and has the consistency of coffee grounds. It is usually the result of upper gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding. The upper GI tract is made up of the stomach, mouth, throat, esophagus, and the beginning of the small intestine. Vomited blood can originate from any of these places. The blood, which may appear dark red, brown, or black, coagulates and darkens as it sits in the stomach.  

Vomiting a significant amount of blood is also called hematemesis. A small amount of blood that is coughed up, spit up, or vomited due to swallowed blood or a nosebleed is generally not cause for concern.

If you experience coffee ground vomitus, call your doctor right away. If it is accompanied by other symptoms, including chest pain or dizziness, seek immediate medical attention or call 911.

Coffee ground vomitus may be a symptom of a variety of conditions, including ulcers, liver disease, and some types of cancer. Diagnostic testing will depend on your symptoms and your medical history.

Treatment of underlying conditions will usually resolve coffee ground vomitus.

Causes of Coffee Ground Vomitus

Gastrointestinal bleeding is always a serious concern that warrants prompt medical attention. Some conditions associated with coffee ground vomitus include:

Coffee ground vomitus may be a sign of serious illness, especially if accompanied by additional symptoms like:

  • lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting
  • shallow breathing
  • large clots
  • severe abdominal pain
  • chest pain

Be sure to tell your doctor if blood in your vomit was more likely coughed up from your lungs. This is not coffee ground vomitus and will require different diagnostic testing. If possible, bring a small sample of the coffee ground vomitus.

Diagnosing Coffee Ground Vomitus

A comprehensive evaluation by a physician is needed whenever there is evidence of gastrointestinal bleeding, as is the case with coffee ground vomitus. Your doctor will also need to know:

  • when the vomiting began
  • if you've ever vomited blood before
  • the color and consistency of the blood
  • accompanying symptoms
  • information regarding recent surgery or dental work
  • other medical conditions
  • list of over-the-counter and prescription medications
  • whether you smoke and consume alcohol or other drugs

Depending on your medical history and other symptoms, diagnostic testing may include:

Treating Coffee Ground Vomitus

Emergency treatment may include intravenous (IV) fluids and medications to decrease stomach acid. If you've lost a lot of blood, a blood transfusion may be necessary. If bleeding cannot be stopped, surgery may be required.

Further treatment will depend entirely on the diagnosis. When underlying medical conditions are treated, coffee ground vomitus will usually resolved.

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