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Strange Color Vomit: When It’s a Sign of a Bigger Problem?

Though vomiting often feels like a major problem, throwing up last night's meal is the symptom of an underlying cause. Often vomiting is our body trying to expel a perceived toxin. It is often relieved within 24 hours and is nothing to be concerned about. However, vomiting that has a certain appearance, taste, or texture can be indicative of a more serious problem. To understand which characteristics of vomit to watch out for, continue reading.

Key takeaways:

Red-striped vomit

If you notice small streaks or specks of red when you throw up, it is not time to freak out. Often, blood-streaked emesis is nothing to be concerned about. Size matters in this case. If you notice just streaks of red, the most likely cause of the discoloration is an irritation of the gums, mouth, or throat. Physicians would not consider streaks of blood in vomitus to be hematemesis (throwing up blood).

Red, black, or dark brown vomit

Red, black, or dark brown vomitus is a sign of hematemesis, the medical word that refers to a significant amount of blood in the expelled gastric contents. Bright red emesis indicates fresh bleeding while dark colored vomitus implies older blood.

At times, bloody vomitus is a harmless occurrence associated with a previous nosebleed, excessive coughing, or swallowing blood. When no previous incident of swallowing blood has occurred, the concern is warranted. It can be indicative of upper gastrointestinal problems, peptic ulcers, or a blood vessel tear, to name a few.

If you experience red, black, or dark brown vomitus, be sure to seek medical care. If you are also experiencing dizziness, shallow breathing, or shortness of breath, call 911. This is a medical emergency. The body may be going into shock.

Coffee-ground texture vomit

Coffee-ground vomitus is a type of hematemesis and therefore is a symptom of internal bleeding. The emesis is either dark brown or black with an appearance similar to coffee grounds. The lumpy texture comes from old, coagulated blood. The internal bleeding has dried, turned dark, and congealed.

The causes of coffee-ground emesis are similar to other types of hematemesis. Though the bleeding may have slowed or stopped, this is not always the case. As with other types of hematemesis, coffee ground vomitus is a medical emergency. Finding and isolating the cause of internal bleeding is critical to prevent blood loss and shock.

"John Deere" green vomit

If you have not eaten anything with a greenish, yellow color, vomit that resembles the green of a John Deere tractor may be indicative of bile emesis or bile reflux. Bile is the digestive liquid that aids in the breakdown of fats, the elimination of old red blood cells, and the removal of toxins. Bile is produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder.

Bile reflux occurs when this digestive fluid backs up, spilling into the stomach or even into the esophagus, the tube between the mouth and the stomach. Green or yellow vomit can be a complication of surgery or an indicator of a peptic ulcer. It is often associated with the following symptoms:

  • Upper abdominal pain;
  • Heartburn;
  • Nausea;
  • Hoarse voice.

Brown, smelly vomit

Brown emesis that has the familiar smell of poop is definitely not pleasant. However, if you suffer from this vomit, it is comforting to know that you are not alone and that the cause may simply be constipation.

Most often, brown vomit that also has the smell of fecal matter is a sign of bowel impaction. Remove the compacted stool, and you remove the foul, brown vomit. It is important to speak to a medical provider about your symptoms, since medical intervention may be indicated.

Metallic-tasting vomit

If you have ever put a coin in your mouth, metallic-tasting vomit is similar to that. Interestingly, it is often caused by a change in your sense of taste, known as dysgeusia. Dysgeusia and vomiting are common symptoms of first trimester pregnancy.

A metallic taste is also associated with a variety of health complications, medications, and vitamins. However, metallic tasting vomit can point to serious kidney or liver problems. Since it is difficult to determine the cause, be sure to talk to your provider.

Dry heaving

Technically, dry heaves are not a type of emesis, or vomitus, because no gastric contents are expelled. However, it is included in this discussion because many people have questions about it, and most of us have suffered from it at one time or another.

Normally, dry heaves are simply a precursor to impending vomiting. At other times, dry heaves result from anxiety or medication side effects. If dry heaves occur in isolation and are not related to a sickness, talk to your provider.

Not all vomit is created equal. Most often, emesis is a food-filled liquid and the result of the body’s attempt to remove bacteria or toxins. Though it is dreaded by many, vomiting is not normally medically concerning. However, vomiting that indicates internal bleeding is considered a medical emergency. If you notice an unexplained color, taste, or smell when you are throwing up, it is important to take note, and let your provider know of any concerns.

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