Vomit Looks Like Coffee Grinds Or Blood? Head To The Nearest Urgent Care! Here's Why

Vomiting is usually a sign of an intestinal illness that is often described as the stomach flu. It can also be caused by pregnancy, motion sickness, food poisoning, emotional distress, gallbladder disease, and medical problems. However, when vomit looks like coffee grinds or blood, it's time to head to the nearest urgent care facility. Here's what causes vomit to look like coffee grinds or blood and how an urgent care doctor can help. 

How can vomit look like coffee grinds? 

Coffee ground vomitus is the medical term used to describe vomit that appears like coffee grinds. It happens when iron in the blood in the gastrointestinal system, usually in the stomach, is exposed to gastric acid. This exposure oxidizes the iron and turns it black. The problem is there shouldn't be any blood in the gastrointestinal tract. Blood here is a signal that there is upper gastrointestinal bleeding, such as from a peptic ulcer. 

The color of the blood in vomit depends on the length of time the blood was in the gastrointestinal tract. The longer the iron has a chance to oxidize, the darker the vomit will be in appearance. The color can range from dark red to brown to black. The coffee grind texture comes from the clotting of blood in the vomit.

Important note: Vomit that is brighter red in color, and not as defined like coffee grinds in texture, signifies hematemesis, which suggests a bleeding that is more severe and hasn't yet mixed with gastric acid, such as a tear in the esophagus. Hematemesis also needs immediate medical attention. 

What are other symptoms to watch for? 

Other symptoms to look for, whether you're vomit looks like coffee grinds or blood, includes dizziness, fainting, paleness of the skin, chest pain, and severe abdominal pain. Another symptom to look for is large clots of blood in the vomit. If you experience any of these symptoms or just have coffee ground vomitus or hematemesis, go to the nearest urgent care facility immediately. If a walk in clinic is not nearby, head to the nearest emergency room. 

What kinds of tests will a doctor perform? 

After doing an examination and taking your medical history, your doctor will order several types of tests to aid in the diagnosis of coffee ground vomitus or hematemesis. These tests can include: 

  • gastric occult test. A test a sample of vomit to determine if blood is indeed present 
  • barium swallow test. An imaging test to see the structures of the esophagus via barium, which you will swallow
  • liver function test. A blood test to determine if there is damage to your liver
  • upper GI endoscopy. A test to visualize the upper gastrointestinal tract, including the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum

The doctor may also order a fecal occult blood test and/or a flexible colonoscopy or signmoidoscopy if he or she believes the problem lies further into your gastrointestinal tract than the upper portion. 

What causes blood in the gastrointestinal system and how will it be treated? 

Treatment for coffee ground vomitus and hematemesis depends solely on the type of medical problem that is causing the vomiting. Vomiting in these instances is a sign of something medically wrong. The only way to treat these types of vomiting is to treat the underlying causes. 

Gastric ulcers that have ruptured can cause blood in the gastrointestinal system. Other causes can be due to alcohol abuse, autoimmune diseases, cancer, ebola virus, gastritis, gastroesophageal reflux disease, hemophilia, hepatitis, fatty liver disease, or yellow fever. If the tests don't show any cause of bleeding, don't be surprised to be asked if you've had a recent nosebleed and inadvertently swallowed blood. 

If you're experiencing any of the above symptoms, head to an urgent care facility like West Ocean City Injury & Illness Center near you.