What Causes Black Vomit?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Consuming dark foods can cause black vomit.
Consuming dark foods can cause black vomit.

Black vomit is usually caused by bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract. The bleeding is a sign of an underlying medical problem. Patients who vomit black or dark brown blood, bright red blood, or blood that looks like coffee grounds should see a doctor as soon as possible for evaluation and treatment. Occasionally black vomit can be caused by something a patient has eaten, as in the case of a patient who eats a dark food like chocolate cake and then feels sick. If there is no dietary explanation, however, the dark vomit may be a sign of a medical emergency.

Black vomit may be a sign of kidney disease.
Black vomit may be a sign of kidney disease.

When people experience bleeds in the upper gastrointestinal tract, blood can enter the stomach and the enzymes in the stomach break it down, turning it dark brown or black. This causes black vomit. Some reasons for bleeds can include prolonged vomiting leading to tears in the esophagus, tumors, kidney disease, alcoholism, a ruptured ulcer, internal trauma, and hemorrhagic diseases like yellow fever. Certain medications can also contribute to the development of bleeds, especially when combined with other drugs or used with herbal supplements.

Alcoholism can cause bleeding in the GI tract, with accompanying black vomit.
Alcoholism can cause bleeding in the GI tract, with accompanying black vomit.

Patients rarely experience black vomit alone. They may also feel generally nauseous, have diarrhea, and experience other symptoms. Feeling faint and disoriented and looking pale are significant causes of concern, as they may indicate that a patient is losing blood internally. When someone starts experiencing black vomit, it is advisable to call a doctor, describe the symptoms and the patient's recent history, and get advice about when and where to seek medical attention.

Patients rarely experience black vomit in the absence of other symptoms.
Patients rarely experience black vomit in the absence of other symptoms.

In a hospital or clinic, a patient can be evaluated with an endoscopy of the gastrointestinal tract, along with medical imaging studies and other tests. This information will be used to find the source of the bleeding and learn more about why it is happening. Treatments can include surgery and medications, depending on the cause of the bleeding, how much blood the patient has lost, and the patient's general condition.

If blood enters the stomach, enzymes break it down, turning it black, causing black vomit.
If blood enters the stomach, enzymes break it down, turning it black, causing black vomit.

Some people are at increased risk for bleeds in their upper gastrointestinal tracts. They should be alert to signs of a developing bleed and follow any directions they may have received from their physicians. Leaving a bleed untreated can have serious consequences for a patient, including the development of a life threatening medical emergency. Patients should also be aware that if a bleed was experienced in the past, a subsequent episode may have a different cause and a different approach to treatment may be required.

Black Vomit After Drinking

It isn't normal to have black vomit after drinking, but it isn't always a medical emergency. Vomiting blood, which is what causes the dark brown or black color, is also known as hematemesis. When determining whether you have a medical emergency on your hands, you need to consider how much blood you're throwing up and how dark it is.

If it only has a few streaks or if it is bright red, it could be something as simple as a nosebleed far back in your nasal cavity that dripped into your stomach. If the blood looks like coffee grounds, it's dried and has probably been in your system for a while. No matter what color the blood is, if there is a lot of it, you may have a serious bleed in your gastrointestinal tract.

Diagnosing the Cause of Black Vomit

Black vomit, which is called coffee ground vomitus in the medical world, must be diagnosed and treated by medical professionals. Whether you talk to your primary care provider or an emergency doctor, he or she will ask questions about your symptoms, overall health history, and any medications you're taking. Based on your answers, your doctor will order testing to find the location and cause of the bleeding. Typically, he or she will start with x-rays and blood tests. There may be other tests as well, though.

  • Barium Study – This special x-ray uses barium contrast dye to help your doctor see your GI tract better.
  • Colonoscopy – This allows your doctor to insert a small scope into the anus and view your colon and rectum for signs of damage or disease.
  • Endoscopy – An endoscopy of the upper GI tract allows your doctor to use a small camera to view your internal organs.
  • Fecal Test – Fecal tests allow your doctor to see if there is blood in your stool.
  • Liver Function Studies – Your doctor may perform special blood tests to determine if your liver is diseased or damaged.

Black Vomit Before Death

A person doesn't always vomit before death and those who do vomit don't always have black vomit. Black vomit before a sudden death may happen if the person has had a bleed happening within the gastrointestinal tract for some time without realizing it. If you or someone you love has black vomit, it is a good idea to head to the emergency room. This is especially true if there are other symptoms. Call an ambulance if there are any of the following symptoms present.

  • Bright red blood in the vomit
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Large blood clots in the vomit
  • Lightheadedness
  • Pale skin
  • Severe abdominal pain

Reasons That Someone May Vomit Before Death

There are a wide variety of diseases or other situations that may cause someone to vomit before death.

Aortic Aneurysm

An aortic aneurysm occurs when the aorta suddenly bulges or swells out. Vomiting is one of the early warning signs, especially if it is coupled with extreme nausea and pain that came on very suddenly.

Cancer

Some types of cancer may cause someone to vomit before they pass away. Typically, though, cancer itself is not the reason the person vomits, unless it is stomach cancer. Other reasons that cancer patients may vomit before death include pain medications, the muscles relaxing, or organs reacting to a buildup of cancer toxins.

Cardiac Arrest

Vomiting is only present in about 7% of cardiac arrest patients, but the number is large enough that it is considered a direct warning sign of cardiac arrest. Vomiting typically sets in about 90 minutes before other symptoms do. If you have been vomiting and suddenly feel chest pain, dizziness, or shortness of breath, call 911.

Overdose

Someone who drinks too much alcohol or who overdoses on drugs may vomit in their sleep. Without immediate treatment, the person can choke on the vomit and die, if the drugs or alcohol itself does not cause death. If you suspect someone has overdosed on drugs, call 911, even if they aren't vomiting. If you or someone you know is vomiting after a night of heavy drinking, stay with them and make sure they sleep on their side to prevent choking. If the vomit is a large quantity or if it is black, seek out emergency care.

Sudden Trauma

If someone experiences sudden trauma, they may vomit or soil themselves before death. Violent trauma, such as a car accident, a major fall, or being a victim of an assault are common examples. When the body is going into shock, the brain often loses control of bodily functions.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

anon996860

Is your dog drinking water? Parvo is a killer because it causes vomiting and diarrhea which leads to dehydration - the cause of death. Get to a vet soon!!

anon996722

Upper gastrointestinal bleeding is black usually. Most common cause is an ulcer. If it is a singular event I wouldn't worry, multiple times see a physician. Blood turns black when it has a chemical reaction with stomach secretions.

anon985729

I can tell you that black vomit is an ulcer, usually. The other night I threw up twice black vomit and the amount of the second one was more than the first one! I went to the ER and they gave me an IV or protonix and an appointment to go see a gastro doctor when I get back

anon952484

Black vomit from bile? Before it is turned into a fresh steaming pile of poo, it is called bile. When my dad had cancer and was undergoing strong daily radiation and chemo, it made him so ill that the bile leaked from his pancreas and was literally being thrown up. He was actually throwing up his own poop.

anon331217

@CopperPipe: To answer your question, did you happen to take pepto bismol for the nausea? I do know from experience that the bismol pink chewable tablets do cause a black film on your tongue. Strange, but true.

anon290759

In the morning about noon I was throwing up black vomit and my throat was hurting and I had a bad headache. I went to the ER and the doctors said I was fine. Now 2 a.m., I just vomited again and it was bright red and my stomach hurt and my throat hurts really bad and I have a bigger headache. What should I do?

anon194129

Today I vomited black. I don't know what it could be offhand. I've read through the explanations and none of them make sense as to how I could have vomited black. Although I haven't eaten anything black today.

I was told I could have a water infection, and the doctors gave me a prescription. But unfortuantly I was unable to fill that prescription. Now I'm wondering, could a water infection cause the black vomiting? I'm starting to get worried, I'm in absolute agony and I haven't got the slightest idea about what to do.

My mother is making me an appointment at the doctors tomorrow, but they never tell you anything. So I'm posting this message in hope that someone will reply with some kind of information that will keep me kind of up-to-date with what's going on. Much appreciated. --Ash.

anon155227

I had vomited thrice yesterday. the first one was brownish, but the following ones were white and yellow.

could someone tell me if this is the cause of an ulcer.

CopperPipe

What about if the vomit is normal colored, but you have a black tongue after vomiting? I had a wicked case of food poisoning a few months ago, and I ended up throwing up for several days straight.

The weirdest thing was, my tongue turned almost completely black after a few days of the throwing up. That was the only odd symptom -- the rest of it was straight vomiting and diarrhea, classic food poisoning.

Do you have any idea as to what can cause someone to have a black tongue after vomiting? I recovered completely within the next week, and I'm fine now, so I'm sure it's nothing to worry about, but I'm just curious.

Any ideas?

LittleMan

What could be some other possible causes of black vomiting? I have been experiencing some vomiting and diarrhea for the past few days, and it's just now started to turn black.

I don't think that I have a GI bleed, since I don't feel dizzy or disoriented, and I don't have a fever or anything like that.

Also, I don't think that it could be food related because the only thing that I've eaten in the past few days is saltines and apple juice.

Could I possibly be throwing up some kind of bile, or something else that's black in the body? If this doesn't clear up soon I'm going to the doctor, but I'd really like to try and figure out what's going on first, just to make sure that it's really serious.

Do you have any idea on what could be causing this, or if I should be concerned?

EarlyForest

Do these same symptoms apply if the one vomiting is a dog? My dog has been throwing up black vomit and having some pretty bad diarrhea for a few days now, and I'm starting to get worried about him.

I'm taking him to the vet tomorrow, but I would really like to find out as much information as I can before we go -- I'm just really scared that he's bleeding internally or something.

He doesn't seem disoriented or anything, just kind of tired and poky, like he normally does when he gets sick.

Does that make a difference, do you think? Or could you tell me some other symptoms that I should be looking for.

Thanks for the information, and cross your fingers for tomorrow!

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    • Consuming dark foods can cause black vomit.
      By: benbro
      Consuming dark foods can cause black vomit.
    • Black vomit may be a sign of kidney disease.
      By: jedi-master
      Black vomit may be a sign of kidney disease.
    • Alcoholism can cause bleeding in the GI tract, with accompanying black vomit.
      By: kmiragaya
      Alcoholism can cause bleeding in the GI tract, with accompanying black vomit.
    • Patients rarely experience black vomit in the absence of other symptoms.
      By: pathdoc
      Patients rarely experience black vomit in the absence of other symptoms.
    • If blood enters the stomach, enzymes break it down, turning it black, causing black vomit.
      By: Jeffrey Collingwood
      If blood enters the stomach, enzymes break it down, turning it black, causing black vomit.