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What does the colour of vomit actually mean?

Vomiting is a frequently occurring symptom of ill health that has many causes. Vomit means that involuntary action (it may or may not be forceful) that pushes food from the stomach and bowels out through your mouth.

In vomit, food particles may be partly or fully digested. They get mixed with the digestive fluids or other elements like the blood which can influence the colour of the vomit. If there is an infection, the effect of the germ on the stomach/bowel contents may affect its colour too.

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The colour of Vomit and its Meaning

  • Most times the appearance of the vomit may reflect the remnants of a recent meal or feed. Outside of this, certain colours may suggest one problem or another. Please note - the colour of the vomit is not unique to a medical condition in every circumstance, but it may give your doctor a clue to the cause of the problem.

Green

This is an indication of bile in the vomit. Bile is the special digestive liquid formed in the gall bladder which helps the body to metabollise fat.

If the colour of vomit is green, it may suggest the stomach is empty of food (as food mixed with bile would alter the colour of the vomit). In some instances it could mean a blockage in the bowel that requires urgent attention.

Yellow

If the vomit is a yellow hue, it may be partially digested food mixed in with bile and other digestive juices. Gastroenteritis from food poisoning may result in yellow vomit - but recall the vomit colour may also be influenced by the colour of the food you've eaten.

Clear, Colourless

This appearance of your vomit may happen after a head injury. It may develop when the stomach is almost empty, following a migraine and even after a stomach infection.

Orange

Vomit of an orange shade may also occur in food poisoning. Migraines could cause several episodes of vomiting over a short period and cause orange vomit.

Red/ Blood

Blood in the vomit could mean several things.

Often, a small amount of bleeding may happen from injury to the small blood vessels of the gullet (food pipe) or stomach. Commonly this is from the force of vomiting. While it can be distressing to witness, it often is not serious. The bleeding stops after a short while, allowing the blood vessels to heal.

More serious causes of blood in vomit are:

  • a stomach (gastric) ulcer that has burst (a medical emergency)
  • an injury to the mouth or gums,
  • and diet intolerances.

Birth defects could be responsible for bloody or red coloured vomit.

Brown

Vomit with brown stains or completely brown vomitus may also have some significance. Bleeding from the stomach/bowel that’s not recent (fresh) may appear brown in colour.

Black

Black coloured vomit usually indicates there has been some bleeding from a part of the bowel or stomach. The blood has become black having mixed with acid in the stomach before vomiting happens. This is a serious symptom of bleeding in the bowel and needs prompt assessment with a doctor. Sometimes, it is described as vomit with the appearance of coffee grounds. Other times the vomit could be very sticky and black if a very big amount of bleeding has happened. This is another reason for an emergency hospital assessment.


With vomiting of any appearance, it is important to seek medical attention urgently for guidance on the most appropriate treatment.

Contact Us for any further information about this topic.


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Editing by AskAwayHealth Team

Disclaimer

All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practising  Medical Practitioners on a wide range of health care conditions to provide evidence-based guidance and to help promote quality health care. The advice in our material is not meant to replace the management of your specific condition by a qualified health care practitioner.
To discuss your condition, please contact a health practitioner or reach us directly through info@askawayhealth.org

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