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Brown Vomit Causes: Understanding the Common Reasons Behind Discolored Emesis

Editorial Team
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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What Are the Most Common Causes of Brown Vomit?

When you notice brown vomit, it's natural to feel concerned. While it's true that consuming brown-colored foods can lead to brown vomit, there are more serious causes to consider. The presence of bile can give vomit a brownish hue, indicating possible issues with the gastrointestinal tract. 


Other more serious causes of brown vomit may include gastrointestinal bleeding, which may appear as coffee-ground emesis due to the oxidation of iron in the blood. In rare cases, severe constipation or an intestinal blockage can also result in vomiting brown material, a situation that requires immediate medical attention. Understanding the causes of brown vomit is crucial for addressing potential health issues effectively and promptly. 

Food and Bile

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. 

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

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. 

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

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

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the most common causes of brown vomit?

Gastritis, gastrointestinal hemorrhage, bile reflux, and bowel blockage are some of the most typical conditions that result in brown vomit. When bile backs up into the stomach, it is known as bile reflux, and it can result in dark vomit. Brown vomit is another symptom of stomach lining irritation known as gastropathy. Vomit that has had gastrointestinal bleeding, such as from ulcers, may appear brown because it includes blood that hasn't been fully digested. Last but not least, intestinal obstructions can result in vomiting dark vomit.

What are some other symptoms that may accompany brown vomit?

Brown vomit may also be accompanied by other symptoms, including fever, nausea, diarrhea, and stomach discomfort. While nausea and diarrhea may point to a viral or bacterial infection, abdominal discomfort may be present in situations of gastritis or intestinal blockage. Infection-related instances may also have a fever.

Should I seek medical attention if I experience brown vomit?

Certainly, you should go to the doctor if you encounter brown vomit, especially if it is accompanied by additional symptoms like fever, nausea, or stomach discomfort. Brown vomit may be a sign of a significant underlying medical condition; thus, it may be vital to seek immediate medical assistance in order to identify and address the problem.

How is the underlying cause of brown vomit diagnosed?

Physical examination, medical history, and diagnostic testing are frequently used to determine the underlying reason for brown vomit. Brown vomit can have a variety of causes, which can be determined via blood testing as well as imaging tests like an endoscopy or CT scan.

How is brown vomit treated?

The underlying reason will determine the course of treatment for brown vomit. For instance, drugs that reduce stomach acid or encourage bile movement may be recommended if bile reflux is the underlying reason. Antibiotics or drugs that lower acid levels can be used to treat gastritis. Bowel blockage may necessitate emergent surgery, while gastrointestinal hemorrhage may necessitate hospitalization, blood transfusions, or surgery.

Are there any home remedies for brown vomit?

Brown vomit does not have any particular home treatments because the underlying reason will determine how it is treated. But there are some basic strategies that can assist with symptoms, such as drinking enough fluids, avoiding solid foods until nausea and vomiting stop, and getting as much rest as you can. Instead of attempting to self-treat brown vomit, it's critical to get medical treatment.

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By Editorial Team
Our Editorial Team, made up of seasoned professionals, prioritizes accuracy and quality in every piece of content. With years of experience in journalism and publishing, we work diligently to deliver reliable and well-researched content to our readers.

Discussion Comments

By anon996693 — On Oct 05, 2016

@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.

By anon991381 — On Jun 16, 2015

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

By anon346970 — On Sep 02, 2013

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.

By anon335373 — On May 20, 2013

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

By anon335265 — On May 19, 2013

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.

By anon278223 — On Jul 05, 2012

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.

By anon137915 — On Dec 29, 2010

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).

By closerfan12 — On Nov 24, 2010

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.

By musicshaman — On Nov 24, 2010

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!

By galen84basc — On Nov 24, 2010

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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