Vomiting: What Does it Mean According to the Color?

The characteristics of vomit can be a clear indication of its origin, so we will explain what your vomit might be saying according to its color.
Vomiting: What Does it Mean According to the Color?
Leidy Mora Molina

Reviewed and approved by the nurse Leidy Mora Molina.

Last update: 19 December, 2022

Vomiting is a symptom that anyone can present at some point in their lives. It’s a sign of many diseases, so it can change as they evolve. The causes can range from self-limited clinical pictures to life-threatening conditions.

This symptom is defined as the expulsion of the contents of the upper digestive tract through the mouth, as a result of the contraction of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles. The occurrence can be due to conditions of the gastrointestinal tract as well as external situations, such as migraines and pregnancy.

The physical characteristics of the expelled content, such as its color and consistency, can guide the specialist in establishing a diagnosis. This is due to the fact that many differents conditions give vomit a particular appearance. Remember, however, that this is only something that serves as a guide, since in any case, you should go to a professional.

1. Yellow or green vomit

A yellow or greenish coloration in your vomit is indicative of the presence of bile. Bile is a substance synthesized in the liver and released in the upper portion of the duodenum. Its main function is to digest fats and facilitate the absorption of nutrients.

In most cases, it occurs when the stomach is empty, as in the case of intestinal viruses or morning sickness. On the other hand, it also appears in the case of conditions with repeated vomiting that can empty the stomach, such as an intestinal obstruction.

Other causes for which vomiting can acquire a green or yellowish hue are the following:

  • The presence of mucus or catarrh, especially in children
  • Hepatic insufficiency
  • Consuming food or beverages that may stain the gastric contents
  • The release of pus due to an infection
  • Poisoning
liver problems and yellow vomit
Yellow vomiting is characterized by its high bile content coming from the liver.

2. Clear, transparent white vomit

As with green or yellow vomit, the expulsion of stomach contents can be clear or transparent when the stomach is empty. What happens is that the vomit changes color as the condition progresses; in this sense, it will first be transparent before turning yellow.

Among the main causes of clear or transparent vomit are concussions, cyclic vomiting, and certain types of food poisoning. Intestinal viruses and morning sickness during pregnancy are also frequent causes.

It may also be because you have just ingested a lot of milk or yogurt, and the vomit may have a foamy consistency depending on whether there’s a lot of gas in the stomach. The latter occurs when you have consumed a lot of carbonated beverages. It can also occur if you’re suffering from gastroesophageal reflux or gastritis.

Fortunately, most of the causes of clear vomiting are of benign and self-limited origin. However, it’s advisable to consult a specialist, especially if they appear after a blow to the head.

3. Black vomit

The presence of black vomit indicates the presence of digested blood in the stomach. It’s important to remember that red blood cells contain iron, which can acquire a black color when subjected to the action of gastric juices.

These appear in all conditions involving upper gastrointestinal bleeding. According to research, the mortality rate in these patients is low. In fact, up to 65% remit on their own. In most cases the bleeding produced is mild. The appearance is blackish and many people describe it as similar to dark coffee or coffee grounds.

This type of vomiting is associated with multiple symptoms such as the presence of blood in the stool, black or tarry stools, weight loss, and cold sweats. Among the main conditions that are capable of causing black vomiting are the following:

  • Mallory-Weiss syndrome
  • The rupture of esophageal varices, generally secondary to portal hypertension
  • Stomach or esophageal ulcers
  • Amyloidosis
  • Fungal infections
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Stomach cancer
  • Complicated pancreatitis
  • Hepatic insufficiency
  • Esophagitis
  • Duodenitis

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4. Brown vomit

A brown color in vomit has two probable causes. The first is hematemesis, in which the gastric juices did not affect the iron to any great extent, so it did not reach the black hue.

The second probable cause is a severe intestinal obstruction, most often in the distal part of the gastrointestinal tract. This condition is capable of preventing the digestion of food. The vomit usually has a brown color very similar to that of fecal matter.

When brown vomit is the result of an intestinal obstruction it is known as fecaloid, due to the fecal odor it produces. This is considered an unequivocal sign of the pathology, since it’s present between 80% and 100% of the cases, according to studies.

5. White or frothy vomit

Frothy vomit is produced by conditions that involve irritation of the gastric mucosa and stomach gases. The presence of oxygen and other gaseous compounds in the stomach causes the appearance of bubbles or foam.

In this sense, diseases such as gastritis and gastroesophageal reflux can cause this symptomatology. These pathologies do not represent a danger to life and vomiting should subside on its own after a few days. The white color can only be given by the ingestion of foods such as milk or ice cream, so it is not a sign of concern.

Like this article? You may also like to read: Antiemetic Drugs to Prevent Nausea and Vomiting

6. Orange vomit

Orange is the characteristic color of partially digested food, so it’s possible to notice this hue in the first vomiting that occurs. Almost all digested foods have an orange hue when the gastric juices exert their action on them.

Orange vomiting usually appears for a certain period of time and then acquires any of the shades already described. Some of the situations that can cause it are the following:

7. Red or bloody vomit

A red or pink hue in vomit can only indicate the presence of fresh, undigested blood. This form of presentation is also called hematemesis, although it doesn’t present the characteristic black color. It can acquire different shades, such as violet.

The coloration is indicative of the presence of profuse bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract and represents a medical emergency. Any condition capable of causing upper gastrointestinal bleeding may generate red or bloody vomit. In this sense, the triggering factor may be a more severe presentation of the lesions causing black vomiting.

The etiology of these bleedings is the same as in the case of black vomiting. Other possible causes are the following:

  • Bleeding in the mouth from any cause (such as severe gingivitis)
  • Recent consumption of foods of this color
  • Amyloidosis
  • Congenital abnormalities in children
  • Coagulation disorders
  • Food allergy in infants
  • Mouth lesions
  • Esophageal vein rupture
vomiting and hospitalization
Profuse upper gastrointestinal bleeding sometimes requires an emergency approach with an endoscopy.

Complications associated with vomiting

One of the main complications associated with vomiting is dehydration and electrolyte disturbances, especially in young children. Constant vomiting involves a large loss of water from the body. In this sense, rehydration with an oral rehydration solution is essential after each episode of vomiting.

Another complication is broncho-aspiration or aspiration of vomit into the lungs. The esophagus may also be irritated by the action of gastric juices. In addition, the force of vomiting is sometimes so abrupt that it can tear the esophageal mucosa.

When vomiting is chronic in nature, it can cause malnutrition. This is because they prevent proper digestion of food and subsequent absorption of nutrients.

When to see a doctor

The presence of red or black vomiting is a warning sign and medical attention should be sought as soon as possible. Blood loss by any means can lead to fatal complications in people. Green vomiting should also be an alarm signal if liver conditions are suspected.

Other circumstances that make a consultation with a specialist necessary include the following:

  • Vomiting for more than 48 hours
  • Not tolerating oral intake of food or beverages
  • Signs of dehydration
  • Considerable weight loss
  • Having diabetes
  • Severe chest pain

The color of your vomit is very important

The importance of the color of a person’s vomit lies in the fact that it can guide the physician when diagnosing the causative pathology. Therefore, the specialist will emphasize knowing the color of the expelled material and thus determine if it is an emergency.

In most cases, it’s not a cause for alarm and usually disappears after a few days. However, it’s important to go to the doctor when blood or fecal matter is expelled, as both of these situations can be life-threatening.

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The contents of this publication are for informational purposes only. At no time can they serve to facilitate or replace the diagnoses, treatments, or recommendations of a professional. Consult with your trusted specialist if you have any doubts and seek their approval before beginning any procedure.