Experiencing nausea and vomiting is never pleasant - but when you find yourself throwing up blood the things get just that bit nastier.
Vomiting can often be attributed to a stomach bug, too much alcohol, or bad food, and seeing a Doctor may not always seem necessary. However, throwing up blood can be a symptom of something more severe and needs to be taken seriously.
Is Throwing up Blood Always a Symptom of Something Serious?
Throwing up blood isn’t always a symptom of serious illness, however, you should always try to find out the cause of hematemesis (vomiting blood).
Swallowing blood from a nosebleed can be one cause, as can blood from a mouth injury. Neither of these scenarios are nice experiences but they also aren’t usually dangerous ones.
Can Acid Reflux, Heartburn, or Indigestion Make You Throw up Blood?
Yes, it can, but perhaps not in the way you might expect. Heartburn and indigestion are symptoms of acid reflux which occurs when your stomach acid moves back into your esophagus. This causes pain, a feeling of fullness, and can sometimes even result in difficulty breathing.
Continuous and untreated acid reflux can, in time, become “Barrett’s Esophagus” which is when the condition causes permanent damage in the esophagus. This can turn into esophageal cancer, however, it is relatively rare.
Minor Causes of Throwing up Blood
As mentioned, stomach bugs and nosebleeds can often be the culprit, but also mild esophagus irritation such as a tear, vomiting, or chronic coughing. Swallowing a foreign object can be a cause, particularly in younger children.
Other causes that should be considered a little more than mild are side effects from Aspirin intake, stomach ulcers or stomach inflammation, and gastritis. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication can also cause you to vomit blood, as can pancreatitis.
Although the above may not seem serious, you should still seek medical attention to confirm diagnosis.
Serious Causes of Throwing up Blood
The serious conditions that can be a cause of throwing up blood include Pancreatic and/or Esophageal cancer, cirrhosis, alcoholic hepatitis, and severe damage to the stomach lining. Again, your Doctor needs to confirm your diagnosis with these conditions.
Other Symptoms You May Experience When Throwing up Blood
As if throwing up blood isn’t bad enough, you may experience other symptoms. You need to take note if any of the following occur as it will help your Doctor to know how to treat your symptoms:
- Nausea, particularly if it continues after vomiting
- Abdominal pain and discomfort
- Vomiting stomach contents or bile
The following symptoms are considered serious and if you experience any of the following, dial 911 immediately:
- Blurred vision
- Rapid heartbeat, or increased heartbeat rate
- Any changes in breathing, either speeding up or slowing down
- Dizziness or fainting
- Cold and/or clammy skin
- Severe abdominal pain
- Throwing up blood after an injury
Finding the Cause of Throwing up Blood
As unpleasant as it might sound, your Doctor will want a description of the color of the blood in your vomit. This is because the color can tell medical professionals where the blood may be coming from.
Darker, or brown, blood usually has an upper gastrointestinal cause and indicates a gradual but steady flow of bleeding.
Bright red blood, however, often means an acute bleeding situation coming from the esophagus or stomach. If it’s bright red in color the blood flow is probably faster and needs to be addressed by professionals immediately.
The amount of blood that you throw up can also tell Doctors about your condition. If you’re throwing up blood that amounts to the size of a small cup, or if you have any dizziness or change in your breathing, you need to call emergency services immediately.
If it isn’t obvious, and initial questioning from a health professional does not uncover a cause, you may need to have some tests. These might include an X-ray, ultrasound scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), T-scan, or an endoscopy.
A blood test may also be done to determine how much blood has been lost and a biopsy will be done if your Doctor suspects cancer may be the cause.
What Is an Endoscopy?
An endoscopy is a non-surgical procedure that examines your digestive tract. It involves a Doctor putting a long, flexible, tube with a tiny camera on it down your throat while viewing the pictures on a screen. The screen will show your throat, stomach, and the upper part of your small intestine as needed.
Before your Endoscopy, you will be given a sedative so that you are not aware of what is happening. You may experience some discomfort in your throat after the procedure, but this is temporary.
Complications That Throwing up Blood May Cause
Another reason why you should consult your Doctor after throwing up blood is due to the complications that may occur, particularly in older people and people with a history of alcohol abuse, strokes, or swallowing disorders.
Choking can often occur when you’re throwing up blood and this may cause blood to collect in your lungs. This will hinder your breathing, so it must be attended to immediately.
Anemia is another concern with throwing up blood, particularly if bleeding is excessive or continues for a long amount of time. A blood test will confirm if your blood count is low and appropriate treatment can then begin.
Shock is another concern with vomiting blood and monitoring for signs of this condition is extremely important, as death can occur.
Symptoms of shock include:
- Fast and shallow breathing or slowed down breathing
- Fast, weak, or erratic pulse
- Irregular heart beat
- Dizziness and lightheadedness, particularly on standing up
- Cold, clammy, skin
- Dilated or dull eyes
- Chest pain or any other unexplained pain
- Confusion and anxiety
- Dry mouth and thirst
- Loss of consciousness
- Low blood sugar
- Decreased urine production
Treatment You Can Expect for Throwing up Blood
With minor causes, treatment may be very little to none, however, if you have lost a substantial amount of blood, you may need a blood transfusion. This is not as frightening as it sounds and is a very common procedure.
A blood transfusion involves inserting an intravenous line by way of a small needle into one of your blood vessels. You are given donated, thoroughly tested blood through this line to replace what you have lost. The process may take up to four hours. Fluids can also be given in the same manner.
Depending on the cause, you may be given medication to stop the vomiting and as treatment for stomach ulcers.
In severe cases an Endoscopy can be performed to treat your symptoms if the vomiting is caused by a tear or cut. Surgery may be required to stop internal bleeding due to ulcers or internal injury and any other injuries or conditions should be attended to.
After the initial treatment, your Doctor may advise you to make dietary changes. Alcohol and foods that are high in acids may cause a reoccurrence of vomiting blood, so these should be avoided.
If the reason you are throwing up blood turns out to be cancer or one of the other more serious conditions, treatment for those will be advised by your medical team.
Can I Treat Vomiting Blood Myself?
As previously mentioned, throwing up blood can be caused by minor conditions where treatment is not needed. However, even if symptoms are minor and do not last long, your Doctor should be made aware that vomiting blood has occurred, even if you’re sure you know the cause yourself.
Throwing up blood is more of a concern if the person is an infant, a child, or elderly – then 911 should be called immediately.
If you’re unsure whether emergency services need to be called, our advice is to do so. It’s always better to be safe rather than sorry.
If you know that someone is throwing up blood, take careful note of any other symptoms that may be present and apply first aid as required until further help arrives.
If you are throwing up blood but don’t feel you need emergency services, get a friend or family member to stay with you so that they can monitor your wellness and make the appropriate decisions if necessary.