The color of the vomited blood varies depending on how long the blood was in your gastrointestinal (GI) system. If you have a delay in vomiting, the blood will appear dark red, brown, or black. The presence of clotted blood within the vomit will make it look like coffee grounds.
This is a serious condition, and it 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.
Get emergency medical care as soon as you begin vomiting blood. Call 911 or local emergency services if you’re vomiting blood or material that looks like coffee grounds and you’re also experiencing:
- unusually pale skin, or pallor
- chest pain
- bright red blood or large clots in the vomit
- severe abdominal pain
Coffee ground vomitus can occur due to various conditions, including gastric ulcers, esophageal varices related to cirrhosis, or gastritis. If you have this symptom, get medical attention as soon as possible to get an accurate diagnosis.
Some other possible causes of coffee ground vomitus include:
Coffee ground vomitus is often an indicator of GI bleeding. You should always see your doctor for an exam if you experience it.
Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms, other health conditions, and medications you may be taking. After reviewing your medical history and performing a physical exam, your doctor will order one or more tests to determine the cause of the bleeding.
- Gastric occult blood testing is a test your doctor can use to look for blood in the vomitus.
- An upper GI endoscopy is a procedure in which your doctor inserts a small flexible scope with a camera down your esophagus to view internal organs.
- A barium study is a special X-ray that uses a contrast dye (called barium) which you’ll swallow, to help your doctor identify problems in your GI tract.
- Liver function studies are blood tests that can help your doctor identify any diseases or damage to your liver.
- Fecal occult blood testing is a test that can detect blood in your stool.
- During a flexible sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy, your doctor inserts a small scope with a camera through your 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.
Treatment of coffee ground vomitus depends on the cause and location of your internal bleeding. There are many possible causes of GI bleeding, and your doctor’s first order of business will be to determine which one is causing yours.
Your doctor can usually determine the cause of your GI bleeding with diagnostic tests and procedures. Often, treatment can be applied at the same time. For example, during an endoscopy, your doctor may be able to stop the bleeding by clipping or clamping the blood vessels, or by injecting medications.
If the cause of your GI bleeding is an ulcer, your doctor may be able to cauterize it during an endoscopy to control the bleeding. If polyps in your colon are causing the bleeding, your doctor can often remove them during a colonoscopy.
Depending on how much blood you’ve lost and whether your GI bleeding continues, your doctor may give you IV fluids or blood transfusions.
You may need to take ongoing medications to control a GI bleed. For example, your doctor may prescribe a protein pump inhibitor (PPI) to control a bleeding ulcer. A PPI is a type of drug that minimizes your stomach acid.
GI bleeding stops spontaneously on its own in about 80 percent of patients, according to an article in the Merck Manual. If your GI bleeding continues, or if your doctor cannot determine its cause, abdominal exploratory surgery may be necessary.
If surgery is indicated, your doctor will often use a low-risk, minimally invasive procedure called laparoscopy. The surgeon will make several small incisions into your abdomen and insert a slender instrument called a laparoscope to examine your internal organs and determine the cause of your GI bleeding. You can often return home the same day.
Coffee ground vomitus is considered an urgent medical condition because it can indicate a serious underlying condition. Left untreated, severe cases can lead to shock, or even death. You should see your doctor as soon as possible for an evaluation if you experience coffee ground vomitus.
Most cases of coffee ground vomitus can be treated and resolved. Often you can return home from a diagnostic test and treatment the same day.