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What Are the Most Common Causes of Brown Vomit?

Sarah Sullins
Sarah Sullins

Brown vomit is usually caused by eating brown food, but it can also be a sign of bile in the regurgitated stomach contents. Gastrointestinal bleeding can also appear brown in vomit. Rarely, a person might throw up brown material because of severe constipation or an intestinal blockage. The treatment for brown vomit depends on the cause, but most cases resolve themselves without medical care. Excessive or frequent episodes can signify a severe medical condition, and one should immediately report to a health care professional.

Food and Bile

Brown vomit can be caused by eating brown foods.
Brown vomit can be caused by eating brown foods.

The most common cause of brown vomit is throwing up brown food or several foods that look brown when mixed or with bile. For instance, red and green foods could look brown if eaten together and then vomited, as could very dark red foods if mixed with bile.

Foods high in brown pigments include coffee, tea, cocoa, soy sauce, red wine, and cola drinks. Fruit juices and cordials with added coloring can also cause brown vomit. 

Eating dark foods like chocolate cake can make vomit look brown.
Eating dark foods like chocolate cake can make vomit look brown.

Additionally, though bile is usually yellow or greenish, it can also look brown when thrown up. This is particularly true if it's coming from an empty stomach; people often get greenish-brown or very dark yellow vomit if they throw up repeatedly. Most of the time, this type of vomiting is caused by something relatively benign, like food poisoning, and will resolve on its own after a few days with no other treatment than a bland diet and lots of water or sports drinks.

Food Poisoning

Food poisoning is usually the result of eating contaminated food, which can cause inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. A fever sometimes accompanies it. If you have food poisoning, vomit may be brown due to the food or small traces of blood.

Blood

On rare occasions, a person can throw up brown vomit due to an intestinal blockage.
On rare occasions, a person can throw up brown vomit due to an intestinal blockage.

Vomit can also look brown because of blood in the gastrointestinal tract. People often call it "coffee ground" regurgitation since it looks like ground coffee after regurgitating. Most of the time, blood that looks brown in vomit is a little old or partially digested, while that which looks bright red is fresh. There are many different causes of throwing up blood, but one of the most common ones is inflammation or irritation of the stomach lining. Excessive use of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), over-use of alcohol, stomach infections, and pernicious anemia can often cause this. 

Blood in the gastrointestinal tract can make vomit appear brown.
Blood in the gastrointestinal tract can make vomit appear brown.

Ulcers can also cause gastrointestinal bleeding, particularly if they erode the stomach lining around them. Likewise, cancers related to the gastrointestinal system, including stomach cancer, esophageal cancer, and pancreatic cancer, can cause bloody vomit and severe liver damage. Some people also throw up blood if they swallow a lot of it during a nosebleed or because of swallowing blood that they cough up due to respiratory disorders. Though the blood in these cases is more likely to be fresh and look red, it can look brown if the bleeding has been going on for a long time or is not active when the person regurgitates. Since so many severe medical conditions can cause bloody vomit, anyone experiencing it should see a health care professional for treatment.

Peptic Ulcer

A bland diet that includes rice is recommended for a person who has experienced bouts of vomiting.
A bland diet that includes rice is recommended for a person who has experienced bouts of vomiting.

Peptic ulcer disease is another possible cause of brown vomit. Peptic ulcers are sores that form in the stomach or small intestine lining. They can block the intestines and cause the vomit to turn brown. They can also signify hematemesis or bleeding in the upper digestive tract.

Cancer

Tumors or cancer in any part of the gastrointestinal tract are sometimes associated with bloody vomit and throwing up. Sometimes, the nausea is a symptom of the disease itself, and other times it's a side effect of the treatment. If you received a diagnosis for any of these conditions, describe the symptoms to your doctor so they can find the best solution for you.

Pernicious Anemia

This type of anemia, characterized by the body's inability to process and utilize vitamin B12, has nausea and vomiting as one of its symptoms. On rare occasions, vomit can contain blood due to stomach or intestinal damage.

Are Frequent Nosebleeds Related to Brown Vomit? 

Frequent nosebleeds can also cause brown vomit. Nosebleeds can introduce large amounts of blood into the gastrointestinal tract, changing the vomit's color to brown. In some cases, the blood from the nosebleed causes vomiting.

Intestinal Blockage

Most cases of brown vomit are benign and clear up on their own within a few days.
Most cases of brown vomit are benign and clear up on their own within a few days.

Rarely, brown vomit may occur when a person has prolonged constipation or an intestinal blockage. When substances in the intestine cannot pass through the obstruction, they may travel back up through the stomach and esophagus. The color of vomit in this situation can range from greenish yellow to dark brown, depending on how far down in the intestines the blockage is. Though this is often called fecal vomiting, people may not throw up actual feces but instead digested food.

Bowel obstructions generally require immediate medical intervention. Imaging studies can determine the location and possible cause for the block; treatment depends on the reason for the obstruction. Sometimes, medical professionals can treat the obstruction with an enema or stent. In severe cases, the obstruction inhibits blood flow, which causes part of the intestine to die. In these cases, surgery is necessary to remove the blockage and dead tissue and reconnect the bowel.

Diverticulitis

Diverticulitis is a condition in which the diverticula, or small pouches, in the intestine's lining become inflamed. This can lead to a blockage in the intestines and result in brown vomit. 

Duodenitis

Duodenitis is an inflammation of the duodenum. Like diverticulitis, it sometimes results in intestinal blockage. Its complications include vomiting blood, severe pain, and anemia due to iron deficiency.

Other Causes of Brown Vomit

There are a few other conditions or illnesses that may cause brown vomit. Most of these are related to the gastrointestinal tract.

Gastrointestinal Infections

These infections can cause inflammation and irritation of the gut, leading to changes in motility and the production of brown vomit.

Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis causes the pancreas to become inflamed. It creates congestion that prevents the digestive enzymes' flow and leads to brown vomit.

Crohn's Disease

Crohn's disease can cause inflammation in the digestive tract, which can cause bleeding in those affected. This can lead to a build-up of brown pigment in the vomit. Other symptoms include abdominal pain, fatigue, and malnutrition.

Acid Reflux

Acid reflux happens when stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus. It irritates the esophagus and leads to the formation of brown vomit.

Defects in GI Blood Vessels

There are various conditions related to abnormalities in the blood vessels of the gastrointestinal tract. When present, damage related to these can result in varices (enlarged veins) in the stomach or esophagus.

Liver Disease vs. Kidney Disease

Liver disease can lead to a build-up of bilirubin in the blood, giving the vomit a brown color. It results from the liver's inability to process and excrete bilirubin properly.

Kidney disease can lead to a build-up of urea in the blood, giving the vomit a brown color. This results from the kidney's inability to filter and excrete urea properly.

Can Medications Cause Brown Vomit?

Some medications can cause changes in gut motility or increased gastrointestinal bleeding, both of which can produce brown vomit. A new medication regime may be the culprit as well. If you are experiencing persistent brown vomiting, it is best to speak to your doctor about the possibility of changing your medication.

Some of the most common medications that can cause this symptom are aspirin and anti-inflammatory drugs.

What Is Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome?

Cyclic vomiting syndrome is a challenging condition that causes recurrent episodes of vomiting. It is onset due to issues with the nerve signals between the brain and digestive tract. 

What Are Some Other Non-GI Causes?

There are also a few non-GI causes of brown vomit. These include:

Pregnancy

Pregnancy can cause changes in the gastrointestinal tract that can lead to brown vomit. This is due to the increased levels of hormones in the body during pregnancy.

Supplements

Certain dietary supplements can cause brown vomit. These include iron supplements and antacids. Iron supplements and antacids can create the brown pigment in vomit.

Injury

Injury to the gastrointestinal tract can also cause brown vomit. It may be the result of a car accident or a fall.

Wrapping Up

Brown vomit can have many causes, some of which are serious. If you are experiencing brown vomit, especially if other symptoms accompany it, you should see your general practitioner to rule out any underlying conditions.

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Discussion Comments

anon996693

@galen84basc: I have no idea when you made this post, but have you had any luck? I've been having the same symptoms and can't find anything about vomiting brown mucus.

anon991381

If you are a female and getting nauseated and puking several times a day, you could be pregnant.

anon346970

I will usually start to vomit brown liquid during stomach flu after I've thrown up all the food I've eaten that day because there's nothing else left in my stomach.

anon335373

@Galen: Same problems here. I've been trying to figure it out for a couple years, but no answers. Have you made any progress?

anon335265

I battle with H-Pylori which infects the stomach and intestines. It's bacterial infection that doc's can write a Prev-Pak RX. It includes two antibiotics and a super pepto bismol combo. It helps.

What happens is I vomit continuously and violently for days, with a high fever, sometimes diarrhea and mucho gas. Horrible disease. A blood test will confirm if you have it.

A natural preventative is to take 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water. Drink two glasses a day. Just saying it works better than the prescription.

anon278223

I haven’t been officially diagnosed with CVS, but I’m sure that’s what I have. Every three or four months since I was about 17, I have become sick to my stomach and vomited continuously for several days to a week. At first I thought it was the flu, because this started when I had a particularly nasty stomach bug. I have always been susceptible to these and vomited easily, but it has not stopped over the years.

Last night, it started again. I knew by the way I felt that it was going to happen again so I got a bucket leaned over and threw up until my stomach was empty, my stomach and ribs hurt, I threw up out my nose, and I just brought up a huge amount of tan vomit. I have been to doctors, but they can’t find anything wrong, but this gets annoying when I can’t keep even water down.

The nausea hasn’t abated but I’ve brought up everything in there. This happens at least three times a year. I have vomited in school, at work and in public toilets. It’s not a nice, lady-like sickness. It’s loud, noisy, smelly and gross since when it starts, I’ll throw up whatever I ate last. Ironically, I have an identical twin sister who is an emetophobe and rarely vomits, and she can’t stand it when I do.

anon137915

I have an ulcer that was diagnosed a few months ago and my appointment for my first round of camera tests isn't until February, but lately I have noticed blood in my stools and when I get really bad pain in my stomach I vomit and my vomit is brown in color. Should I be worried or wait for my appointment in February? I am worried but I don't know what to do (can't go back to GP's as there is nothing more she can do at the moment).

closerfan12

Here's a cause of brown vomit in children for you: brownie mix.

When I was little, my mom used to bake all the time, and one time she left a bowl of brownie mix in the refrigerator to chill for a few hours before she baked it.

I got into it, and ended up eating the entire bowl! Needless to say, the aftereffects were, well...spectacular. I was sick as a dog, and seriously, I have never seen that shade of brown since -- not that I really want to.

Anyway, just another possible cause if your child starts throwing up brown.

musicshaman

Recently, my dog has started vomiting brown bile, and I am really starting to get concerned about it.

Before, I just thought that it could be something she ate, since she's an outdoor dog, and you know how dogs vomit pretty easily anyway, but now I'm not so sure.

It's almost like she's got a lot of brown pus that's coming up with the vomit, instead of the vomit itself being brown, now that I think about it.

Do you know what could be causing this? Do the same brown vomit causes apply for dogs, or should I be looking for something different?

I'm taking her to the vet next week anyway to find out what's going on, but I'd love to have some more information as soon as I can.

Thanks!

galen84basc

This is a bit embarrassing, but I'm really desperate for information. OK, this past week I've been vomiting a lot -- like two or three times a day, and it's starting to come up brown.

I have only been eating the BRAT diet, nothing brown, but I'm not getting the "coffee ground" look that you always hear about with blood in the vomit. It almost looks more like brown mucus.

I have also not been having any intestinal pain, so I don't think it's a blockage or anything (I really, really, really hope it's not because that's just gross).

So what could be causing this? I don't have a fever or anything, and I feel OK most of the time, except I keep getting nauseous a few times a day. As soon as I throw up I feel better, until the next time.

Does anybody have any idea what could be causing this?

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    • Brown vomit can be caused by eating brown foods.
      By: Mariusz Blach
      Brown vomit can be caused by eating brown foods.
    • Eating dark foods like chocolate cake can make vomit look brown.
      By: benbro
      Eating dark foods like chocolate cake can make vomit look brown.
    • On rare occasions, a person can throw up brown vomit due to an intestinal blockage.
      By: PictureP.
      On rare occasions, a person can throw up brown vomit due to an intestinal blockage.
    • Blood in the gastrointestinal tract can make vomit appear brown.
      By: Lars Zahner
      Blood in the gastrointestinal tract can make vomit appear brown.
    • A bland diet that includes rice is recommended for a person who has experienced bouts of vomiting.
      By: womue
      A bland diet that includes rice is recommended for a person who has experienced bouts of vomiting.
    • Most cases of brown vomit are benign and clear up on their own within a few days.
      By: pathdoc
      Most cases of brown vomit are benign and clear up on their own within a few days.