Throwing Up Blood: 6 Causes, What It Means & What to Do

Medical review: Dr. Clarisse Bezerra
Family Doctor
March 2023

Throwing-up blood can happen with conditions like gastritis, ulcers or esophagitis. It is usually related to abnormalities or malfunctioning of the organs along the digestive tract, like the stomach, esophagus or beginning of the intestines.

It is medically referred to as hematemesis, and can vary depending on severity. Patients may report small or large amounts of blood both of which should be reported to a doctor. 

The doctor may order testing like an endoscopy, which assesses the integrity of the digestive tract. Treatment is usually aimed at resolving at the underlying cause and minimizing blood losses.

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Why am I vomiting blood?

Throwing-up blood can be a sign of various condition, such as: 

1. Esophageal varices  

Esophageal varices are blood vessels in the esophagus that have become dilated. This can happen due to obstructed circulation within the hepatic portal, which is responsible for draining blood around the abdominal organs. With decreased flow or obstructions in the hepatic portal, pressure in the vessels around the esophagus will increase. This increased pressure causes dilation and bleeding. Blood can be noted in vomit or in the stools (which will appear to be black and have a foul odor), and many people may also experience dizziness and pallor. 

What to do: If you suspect varices and you are vomiting blood, you should proceed immediately to the emergency room to stop the bleeding. Once diagnosed, patients are usually monitored by a gastroenterologist. Treatment is aimed at improving the underlying cause of bleeding and preventing further hemorrhages. The doctor will often prescribe beta-blockers and may recommend surgery to repair the varices. 

2. Gastritis

Gastritis is characterized by inflammation in the stomach, which can occur when the protective mucus lining is destroyed and left untreated. Without the mucus lining, the stomach is prone to developing ulcers, which can bleed over time and lead to bloody vomit and dark stools. Other symptoms associated with gastritis include abdominal discomfort, burning in the stomach and nausea. If you think you may have gastritis, report your symptoms using our online gastritis quiz

What to do: You are advised to see your doctor for assessment to determine whether you have stomach inflammation. Once identified, treatment can be initiated. Usually it involves the use of stomach protectors to prevent further inflammation. These medications work by creating a barrier to block stomach acid from irritating stomach tissue, which promotes healing and relieves symptoms. Learn more about how gastritis is treated. 

Diet also plays a role in decreasing stomach inflammation. You should avoid spicy foods, sauces, fatty foods and alcohol, for example. Read more about what foods you should eat and what to avoid when treating gastritis. 

3. Esophagitis

Esophagitis is an inflammation that affects the esophagus, which is a structure that connects the mouth to the stomach. Most times, esophagitis is caused by infections, gastritis or reflux. People with esophagitis usually have excess acid in the esophagus, which can cause symptoms like heart burn, a bitter taste in the mouth, a sore throat and blood in vomit. 

Read more about erosive esophagitis and why it can happen.

What to do: It is important to identify the underlying cause of esophagitis to start appropriate treatment. Most times, the doctor will prescribe medication to decrease stomach acid production, like omeprazole. Dietary changes may also be required until the inflammation resolves and to prevent further worsening. 

4. Gastric ulcers 

Stomach ulcers mostly occur due to chronic gastritis that is left untreated. Stomach tissue that is constantly irritated by stomach acid can lead to the appearance of ulcers. 

Stomach ulcers usually cause stomach pain between meals or at night that does not resolve with medications. They can also cause nausea and vomiting with blood. Read more about stomach ulcer symptoms that can emerge.

What to do: Similar to gastritis or esophagitis, you should use stomach protectors as prescribed by your doctor to prevent further irritation of stomach tissue. This will help to heal the ulcers. Dietary changes should also be considered. 

5. Nose bleeds

When nose bleeds are very intense, the person may involuntarily swallow blood and then feel the urge to eliminate it by vomiting. Most times, throwing-up blood after a nose bleed is not serious, however you should monitor how often this happens and how much blood you lose. You should see your doctor if you vomit blood frequently after nose bleeds. 

Learn more about what can cause nose bleeds and what to do.

What to do: To stop nose bleeding and prevent eventual bloody vomit, you should apply pressure on the nostrils with a napkin and apply ice to the nose. It also helps to lean your trunk forward instead of raising your chin up, to prevent blood from being swallowed. 

6. Cancer

The presence of stomach or esophageal tumors can lead to blood being eliminated through the mouth. This symptoms is more frequent in advanced stages of cancer. In addition to throwing-up blood, you may notice other symptoms like loss of appetite, weight loss, difficulty swallowing, dark stools with a foul odor, a feeling of a full stomach, excessive fatigue and abdominal discomfort. 

What to do: Stomach or esophageal cancer is suspected, the doctor should order testing like an endoscopy or biopsy for confirmation. Once diagnosed, treatment should be started promptly to avoid further cancer progression and complications.

Babies throwing up blood

Babies who vomit blood should be assessed by their doctor or pediatrician. Usually it is a sign of a hemorrhagic disease (like a vitamin K deficiency), liver disease, or a serious infection. Babies who breastfeed can also swallow blood from cuts or fissures in the mother’s nipple - this is a less serious condition.

In children, it is common to notice blood in vomit after losing a tooth, after a nose bleed, with strong coughing or from certain medications. 

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Written and updated by Daisy Oliveira - Registered Nurse on March of 2023. Medical review by Dr. Clarisse Bezerra - Family Doctor, on April of 2022.
Medical review:
Dr. Clarisse Bezerra
Family Doctor
Dr. Bezerra possesses a medical degree and specializes in family medicine. She is licensed to practice under CRM-CE licence #16976.