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Does the color of vomit mean anything?

Vomit, also known as emesis or throwing up, is the involuntary expulsion of stomach contents through the mouth. The color of vomit can sometimes indicate a health issue. Here is a quick overview of what different vomit colors may signify:

What does clear vomit mean?

Clear vomit is gastric juice, an acid that helps digest food in the stomach. Seeing clear vomit usually means the stomach is empty of food. Possible causes of clear vomiting include:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Morning sickness during early pregnancy
  • Acid reflux or heartburn
  • Stomach flu (gastroenteritis)
  • Consuming too much water on an empty stomach
  • Anxiety or emotional stress

Clear vomit by itself is not usually a cause for concern. However, if it happens frequently or is accompanied by severe nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, dizziness, or fever, see a doctor.

What does yellow vomit mean?

Yellow vomit usually indicates the presence of bile from the small intestine. Bile is a digestive fluid produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. Possible reasons for yellow vomit include:

  • Food poisoning
  • Peptic ulcer
  • Gallstones
  • Hepatitis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Appendicitis
  • Blocked bile ducts
  • Medications like Pepto-Bismol

Yellow vomit may also happen in the morning before eating, especially after drinking alcohol. See a doctor if yellow vomit persists, as it could indicate a blocked bile duct or other medical issue.

What does green vomit mean?

Green vomit is caused by bile mixing with food contents in the stomach. Possible causes include:

  • Food poisoning
  • Overeating
  • Acid reflux
  • Stomach flu
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Celiac disease
  • Gastroparesis or slow stomach emptying
  • Pyloric stenosis, a narrowing of the opening from the stomach to small intestine

In infants, green vomit may indicate a blockage in the intestines. See a doctor if green vomit happens frequently or is accompanied by severe pain, diarrhea, or other concerning symptoms.

What does brown vomit mean?

Brown vomit usually means the contents of the stomach have been there for a while before being expelled. Possible causes include:

  • Food poisoning
  • Peptic ulcer
  • Gastritis or stomach inflammation
  • Restricted food intake, as in eating disorders
  • Intestinal blockage

The brown color comes from old blood that has been digested or oxidized stomach contents. Seek medical care if you have abdominal pain, diarrhea, or blood in stool along with brown vomit.

What does red or bloody vomit mean?

Red or bloody vomit needs prompt medical attention. Possible causes include:

  • Tear in the esophagus or stomach lining (Mallory-Weiss tear)
  • Esophageal varices or dilated veins in the esophagus wall
  • Stomach ulcer
  • Cancer of the stomach, esophagus, or throat
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Swallowing blood from nosebleeds or mouth injuries

Red vomit indicates active upper gastrointestinal bleeding. Call emergency services or go to the ER right away if you throw up blood.

What does black vomit mean?

Black vomit usually looks like coffee grounds and results from bleeding in the stomach. Possible causes include:

  • Stomach ulcer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Esophageal varices
  • Mallory-Weiss tear
  • Regular use of aspirin or other NSAIDs
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Yellow fever

Black vomit requires emergency medical care to identify and treat the source of bleeding. Call 911 or have someone drive you to the ER right away if you vomit black material.

When to see a doctor

Consult a doctor if vomiting:

  • Occurs frequently or severely
  • Is green and bloody, brown, or black
  • Is accompanied by chest or abdominal pain
  • Results in dehydration
  • Lasts more than 2 days in adults or infants older than 3 months
  • Lasts more than 1 day in infants under 3 months
  • Interferes with keeping down any liquids

Seeking prompt treatment is crucial for identifying and managing any underlying condition. Call 911 or get emergency help for vomiting blood, which can indicate a life-threatening problem.

When vomiting may ease on its own

Adults and older kids can often manage mild, temporary vomiting at home with rest and hydration. Vomiting will likely stop on its own within 24 hours in cases like:

  • Motion sickness
  • Food poisoning
  • Overeating
  • Morning sickness
  • Stomach flu
  • Migraines
  • Food allergies

Using an oral rehydration solution can help restore fluids and electrolytes. Seek medical guidance if dehydration develops.

Tips for managing vomiting at home

If vomiting seems mild and self-limited, try these home care tips while monitoring symptoms:

  • Rest with no solid food until vomiting stops
  • Rehydrate slowly with water, juice, ice chips, or an oral rehydration solution
  • Rinse mouth with water or baking soda solution to remove acid
  • Apply a cool cloth to the forehead for comfort
  • Avoid throat irritation from stomach acid by not lying flat
  • Eat mild, bland foods like rice, toast, applesauce when restarting solids
  • Avoid fatty, spicy, or heavy foods at first
  • Call a doctor if you cannot keep any fluids down for 8 hours

Let your doctor know if home care does not improve vomiting after 24 hours. Prompt medical treatment can provide relief and prevent complications.

Preventing vomiting

You can reduce episodes of vomiting by:

  • Treating underlying conditions like reflux, ulcers, or infections
  • Avoiding triggers like motion sickness, overeating, contaminated water or food
  • Practicing food safety and thorough hand washing
  • Not mixing medications that can cause nausea
  • Managing morning sickness, migraines, and anxiety
  • Preventing alcohol intoxication and substance misuse
  • Using prescribed anti-nausea or anti-reflux medication if needed

While vomiting serves as the body’s protective reflex, frequent or severe episodes require medical care. Paying attention to vomit color and other symptoms can reveal problems needing prompt treatment.


The color of vomit can indicate issues like food poisoning, stomach ulcers, liver disease, or bleeding in the gut. Clear vomit simply reflects stomach fluid. Green or yellow vomit suggests bile from the small intestine is mixing with food contents. Red, brown, or black vomit indicates blood and requires emergency medical care.

While acute vomiting from illnesses like food poisoning may improve at home, recurrent or severe episodes need medical assessment. Vomiting blood is a medical emergency needing immediate treatment. Paying attention to symptoms and vomit color helps detect serious conditions requiring prompt diagnosis and care.