Vomiting Blood (Haematemesis)

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You should call an ambulance or go directly to the nearest emergency department if you bring up (vomit) blood. Often the bleeding will stop quite quickly but in some cases it can become severe and life-threatening. So always play safe and seek medical help quickly. There is a range of different causes - discussed below. Many causes can be treated but the first priority is to make sure the bleeding stops. The rest of this leaflet aims to give some background information but is not a substitute for obtaining immediate medical attention if you vomit blood.

The medical word for vomiting blood is haematemesis. This symptom is usually due to a problem within the upper gut. That is, the gullet (oesophagus), stomach or the first part of the small intestine (duodenum). There is a range of different causes - discussed below.

Vomiting of blood is a medical emergency. In many cases the bleeding will stop quite quickly but in some cases it can become severe and life-threatening. Therefore, call an ambulance or go directly to the nearest emergency department if you vomit blood.

Upper gut and nearby organs

Your gut (gastrointestinal tract) is the tube that starts at your mouth, and ends at your bottom (anus).

The upper gut includes the gullet (oesophagus), stomach and first part of the small intestine (duodenum). Food passes down the oesophagus into the stomach. The stomach makes acid which is not essential but helps to digest food. After being mixed in the stomach, food passes into the duodenum, to be digested.

The type of bleeding is sometimes described as follows:

Dark blood. This is often referred to as a 'coffee ground' colour. This suggests that the bleed has been relatively slow. The blood has been in contact with stomach acid long enough for the acid to turn the blood a dark brown/red colour. The bleeding in this situation may not yet have been heavy. However, it may become heavy at a later time.

A large amount of bright red blood suggests a rapid and large bleed.

Melaena is the medical word for old, dark blood in poo (stools/faeces). If you have melaena, your stools become very dark or black. There is often a tar-like consistency. Vomiting blood and having melaena are symptoms that often go together. Having both symptoms together means that you have had a lot of bleeding into the gut.

Other symptoms may occur at the same time as vomiting blood. For example, tummy (abdominal) pain, high temperature (fever), feeling unwell, or other gut symptoms. If you lose a lot of blood, it can make you feel dizzy or even pass out. The presence and type of other symptoms may help to point to a cause of the bleeding. Sometimes there are no other symptoms at first.

There are many possible causes. Below is a brief overview of the more common and important causes:

Bleeding from the gullet (oesophagus)

Causes include:

Bleeding from the stomach

Causes include:

Bleeding from the first part of the small intestine (duodenum)

Causes include:

  • Duodenal ulcer. An ulcer may bleed, sometimes heavily. Like stomach ulcers, a duodenal ulcer is usually caused by an infection with the germ (bacterium) called H. pylori. This can usually be treated quite easily. Anti-inflammatory medicines and aspirin, which are common causes of stomach ulcers, are uncommon causes of duodenal ulcers.
  • Inflammation of the duodenum lining (duodenitis) has similar causes to duodenal ulcers.

Rare causes from any part of the upper gut


  • Radiation poisoning.
  • Uncommon infections of the gut.
  • Injury.
  • No cause identified. Even after tests, in some cases the cause cannot be found.

Bleeding which has not come from the gut

Sometimes when blood is vomited, it has not come from the gut. For example, if you have had a nosebleed and then swallowed the blood, you may vomit blood. Also sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether the blood has been vomited up from the gut, or coughed up.

A doctor's assessment

Your doctor is likely to ask various questions about the nature of the bleeding and ask if you have any other symptoms. He or she will also examine you.

The doctor will try to find out if this blood is truly coming from the upper gut. Sometimes it is difficult to be sure. Sometimes it can be difficult to say if the blood is:

The doctor will also try to make a judgement about how much blood you have lost and how serious this is. They will be able to tell this from what you tell them and also by checking your pulse and blood pressure.

If it is clear that the blood is coming from the upper gut, tests are usually done to identify the cause.

Blood tests

Blood tests will usually be done to assess your general situation. For example, how much blood you have lost, and if you need intravenous fluid or a blood transfusion to counter any large amount of blood loss. Also, blood tests may help to assess your liver function if you have 'scarring' of the liver (cirrhosis), or to help diagnose or assess other causes of the bleeding.


A gastroscopy (endoscopy) is an internal examination. A thin, flexible telescope is passed down the gullet (oesophagus) into the stomach and to the upper duodenum. The cause of the bleeding can often be identified by endoscopy.

Initial treatment

The initial treatment may require a drip into a vein to give you fluid or even a blood transfusion if the bleeding is severe. This may not be necessary if the bleeding has been minor and has stopped. However, if the bleeding is severe, full resuscitation and emergency fluid/blood replacement may be required.

Other treatments

This will depend on the cause. However, an initial treatment to stop any ongoing bleeding can often be done by using instruments that can be passed down the endoscope (as described above). Occasionally, emergency surgery is needed to control severe ongoing bleeding. Once bleeding is stopped, further treatment depends on the cause. For details, see individual leaflets on the various diseases that can cause vomiting blood.

Original Author:
Dr Tim Kenny
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Laurence Knott
Document ID:
28418 (v2)
Last Checked:
Next Review:
The Information Standard - certified member
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