What is Hematemesis?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Hematemesis is the formal term used to describe vomiting blood. Vomit in the blood is usually a sign of bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract, and it can be caused by a number of things. It is usually treated as a medical emergency because it can be a complication of some very serious medical conditions, and there are concerns about blood loss. Treatments for hematemesis vary, depending on why the patient is vomiting blood in the first place. Someone who starts to vomit blood should be taken to the hospital.

A person who vomits blood may need a transfusion.
A person who vomits blood may need a transfusion.

When the blood is bright red, it means that it has limited contact with the stomach juices. Darker blood has been partially digested in the stomach, and in some cases, hematemesis may look more like coffee grounds due to prolonged exposure to stomach acids. Patients can vomit blood alone, or pass blood with food. Sometimes, hematemesis is combined with melena, in which the stool is dark because it contains blood which has passed through the intestinal tract, and occasionally the patient experiences hematochezia, in which fresh blood is passed with stool.

Hematemesis is the technical term used when someone is vomiting blood.
Hematemesis is the technical term used when someone is vomiting blood.

One reason for a patient to experience hematemesis is because he or she has been vomiting so violently that there are small tears in the esophagus, as for example when someone has had a virulent stomach bug for several days. This condition can also be caused by cancers and ulcers. In a patient with hematemesis, a doctor may recommend a scoping of the esophagus to look for the source of the bleed, so that the bleeding can be stopped and the doctor can develop a long term treatment plan.

People with nosebleeds may think they are vomiting blood when blood from the nose triggers the gag reflex.
People with nosebleeds may think they are vomiting blood when blood from the nose triggers the gag reflex.

Sometimes, people think that they are vomiting blood and they are actually experiencing a nosebleed. Blood from the nose can drip down the back of the throat, causing a gag reflex and subsequent vomiting. Likewise, people may also cough up blood from the lungs, which is an issue of concern, but one which is separate from hematemesis.

Hematemesis may be combined with melena, in which a person's stool is dark because it contains blood which has passed through the intestinal tract.
Hematemesis may be combined with melena, in which a person's stool is dark because it contains blood which has passed through the intestinal tract.

In a patient who has lost a lot of blood, transfusion will be recommended to bolster blood volume. Diagnostic tests can be run to find out why the patient is vomiting blood. With a diagnosis, a doctor can make treatment recommendations which will address the problem in the long term. These recommendations can include surgery, medications, and dietary recommendations. The patient may be kept in the hospital until she or he stops vomiting blood and appears stable.

Some people who believe that they are vomiting blood may actually be experiencing a nosebleed.
Some people who believe that they are vomiting blood may actually be experiencing a nosebleed.
Hematemesis may occur as a complication of an endoscopy procedure.
Hematemesis may occur as a complication of an endoscopy procedure.
Blood is composed of red and white blood cells, plasma, and platelets.
Blood is composed of red and white blood cells, plasma, and platelets.
People may cough up blood as a result of a nosebleed.
People may cough up blood as a result of a nosebleed.
Hematemesis can occur after a patient vomits so violently that small tears damage the esophagus.
Hematemesis can occur after a patient vomits so violently that small tears damage the esophagus.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

OeKc05

My sister had hematemesis after having the stomach flu for two days. She had been vomiting every few hours, and her esophagus had suffered greatly. She didn’t know where the blood was coming from at the time, so she called her doctor.

He sent her to the hospital right away for an esophagus scoping. He found the small rips in the tissue, and he knew that the blood came about from the strain of vomiting.

All he could do was give her some medicine to ease the vomiting. It knocked her out, so she slept instead of throwing up. She didn’t cough up any more blood, because she was done vomiting.

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