Coffee ground vomitus: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

The amount of time the blood remains in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract before appearing in the vomit will determine its color and shade. A more extended period will result in a darker color, which may be dark red, black, or brown.

Anyone who vomits blood should seek medical attention immediately as it is a serious condition. If possible, bring a sample of the vomit to the doctor and note the time and quantity of the vomit, as well as any possible causes.

In this article, we look at the causes, symptoms, and treatment of coffee ground vomitus.


There are many potential causes of coffee ground vomitus, including:

  • gastric ulcers
  • esophageal varices, when swollen veins in the esophagus burst and bleed
  • gastritis, irritation of the stomach lining
  • cirrhosis, severe scarring on the liver and reduced liver function
  • Ebola
  • hemophilia B, an inherited blood clotting disorder that causes easy bruising and bleeding
  • cancer of the esophagus, or food pipe

These conditions all require medical attention and treatment.


Anyone who vomits blood or a substance that resembles coffee grounds should seek immediate medical attention. If the person is unable to get to the emergency room, they should call for an ambulance.

Other symptoms that may indicate an emergency situation include:

  • chest pain
  • dizziness
  • pale skin
  • severe pain in the abdomen
  • feeling of lightheadedness
  • bright red blood in the vomit
  • large clots in the vomit
  • fainting

The other symptoms that may accompany coffee ground vomitus will vary depending on the underlying condition.


The treatment for coffee ground vomitus will vary greatly depending on the underlying cause. A doctor will need to determine what is causing the blood to appear in the vomit before making any recommendations on treatment.

If an ulcer or gastritis is causing a person’s coffee ground vomitus, a doctor may treat it with the following:

  • antibiotics to clear up the Helicobacter pylori infection that causes ulcers
  • acid-reducing medications to reduce the stomach acid and allow the stomach to heal
  • antacids to provide pain relief and neutralize existing stomach acids
  • medications to protect the stomach lining

If Ebola is the cause of the coffee ground vomitus, a doctor may recommend:

  • antiviral medications
  • intravenous fluids and electrolytes
  • medication to reduce vomiting
  • medication for fever
  • treatment of any other infections that may occur simultaneously

For people with upper GI cancer, a doctor will tailor treatment to the type and stage of cancer. Treatment for upper GI cancer may include:

  • surgical removal of the cancer
  • chemotherapy
  • radiation therapy
  • immunotherapy

Replacement therapy is the usual treatment for a person whose coffee ground vomitus is due to hemophilia B. In replacement therapy, the person receives intravenous infusions of the missing clotting factors. These clotting factors help to stop bleeding in the upper GI tract.

A doctor will prescribe beta-blockers to someone whose coffee ground vomitus results from esophageal varices. This medication will reduce blood pressure in the bleeding vein. The doctor may also recommend rubber band litigation, which will involve using elastic bands to tie off bleeding veins to stop the bleeding.

If cirrhosis is the cause, a doctor may suggest:

  • intravenous antibiotics
  • nitrates or beta-blockers
  • banding procedures to control bleeding in the esophagus
  • hemodialysis

A doctor may also recommend that people with cirrhosis stop drinking alcohol and follow a diet low in protein.


Anyone who experiences coffee ground vomitus should seek medical attention as soon as possible. If they have additional symptoms, such as fresh blood or large clots, the person should seek emergency medical attention.

A doctor will need to diagnose the underlying cause of coffee ground vomitus before recommending treatment. The severity of the underlying condition will determine how long it will take for a person to recover and see a reduction in symptoms.

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