Vomit Colors: What They Mean

Vomit Colors: What They Mean

We’ve all thrown up at least several times in our lives, but it was not until we grew older that we started wondering about the color of our vomit and whether or not it was normal. For example, what does it mean when you throw up clear? What does blood look like when you throw up? What does it mean when you throw up black stuff and it looks like coffee grounds? Is yellow bile vomit or green? Vomit can range in color from clear, foamy, whitish or gray to yellow, green, orange, white with pink streaks, bright and dark red, brown, black and vomit like coffee grounds. Some of these colors are normal, some are not and require us to see a doctor as soon as possible.

What color is vomit supposed to be? Actually, a lot of vomit colors are normal and a result of what you eat, drink or don’t eat or drink. Normal vomit is supposed to look clear, whitish, even orangey or like dark grey water. The vomit colors to be concerned about are red, brown, black and vomit like coffee grounds, so every shade of red and black. These most likely indicate bleeding that may come from an ulcer or some other condition of the gastrointestinal tract.

Vomit colors meaning

Yellow and green vomit can be considered both normal, meaning non-pathological and, at the same time, a sign of liver and gallbladder problems. And frequent vomiting, meaning continual, constant vomiting that elicits severe dehydration and continues over 24-48 hours is a sign you should go to the hospital to receive medical care. For the most part, vomiting does not occur by itself so any accompanying symptom should be noted because it can help you better understand what is going on.

What do different colors of vomit mean?

1) Vomit colorless liquid. When you vomit clear liquid, it means your stomach is cleared of food and you haven’t eaten or drank anything (except maybe very little water) in a while, so you can only vomit stomach acid and digestive enzymes which are colorless or clear. If vomit seems a bit thicker, then mucus might be present or saliva. For the most part, clear vomit is normal-looking, but attention should be given to the frequency and severity of the symptom in case there is need of medical intervention. Throwing up clear liquid when pregnant can be caused by too frequent vomiting and not eating because of the morning sickness.

2) Vomit color white. Because it carries stomach juices, vomit is acidic. So right before throwing up, you might experience mouth watering because your body is producing excess amounts of saliva to reduce esophagus damage from the upcoming acidic vomit. Mucus may also be produced to coat the sensitive mucous linings of the esophagus and back of the throat and protect them from the acidic stomach contents. This can lead to white or foamy vomit which is filled with saliva and mucus. White vomit may also mean you haven’t eaten any food or drank much fluids in some time or have thrown up after you’ve digested what you ate. Throwing up white foam during pregnancy morning sickness is not uncommon. In rarer cases, throwing up foam can be caused by dehydration, acid reflux or fungal infections of the gastrointestinal tract.

3) Vomit color gray. Some people vomit dark grey water, similar to a slightly dirty dish water. For the most part, it is a normal color, a result of gastric and bile acids and food. Eating green-tinted foods, but without a lot of pigment, can sometimes cause grey vomit. Some medication, especially medicines for motion sickness, including remedies like ginger ale can also contribute to grey vomit.

Vomit colors

4) Vomit color yellow. The color of yellow vomit comes from bile acids secreted by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. This particular color can be seen in people who throw up but have not eaten for a long while and have an empty stomach. It usually takes a lot of effort to throw up bile. Yellow vomit is sharp, acidic tasting and stings the esophagus and back of the throat. After vomiting yellow, the tongue may hurt from the regurgitated stomach juices. Pigment may range from a lighter yellow to a bright yellow and yellow with a green tinge. This vomit color may occur as a result of severe motion sickness or gallbladder problems such as biliary strictures.

5) Vomit color green, also known as bile vomit. When you vomit on an empty stomach (no food, no water), you will notice either a bright to dark green or greenish-yellow color to your vomit. This is a result of bile acids and causes the vomit to taste bitter, sharp and unpleasant. Green vomit is also extremely acidic and causes a burning sensation in the throat and mouth. Vomiting bile often occurs in the morning, upon waking up or drinking water. If repeated bile vomit occurs, it is time to make an appointment with your doctor. As a person with severe motion sickness, whenever I traveled by car, bus or other transportation means, I often avoided eating and drinking in the morning to prevent throwing up. But whenever my stomach was empty, I would throw up green vomit.

6) Vomit color orange. When you eat, digestive enzymes and bile acids help digest food. But if you throw up soon after eating, the vomit can be orange-colored like carrots or orange juice or lighter. This often indicates more concentrated stomach juices and food particles may also be present. You can throw up orange vomit if you have been eating foods like carrots, pumpkin, drinking orange juice or carrot juice. Orange vomit can present with partially digested food particles.

7) Vomit color red. Red vomit color (haematemesis) indicates active, sometimes serious bleeding. It can be caused by severe gastritis, a stomach ulcer, GERD, gastroenteritis, stomach cancer, esophagus tears, ulcerations or injury, esophageal cancer, sometimes bleeding polyps or benign tumors, hepatitis. Sometimes, the blood in red vomit is coughed up from the lungs. It is usually not normal for vomit to be red, so irrespective of how much or how little red vomit you throw up, seek medical help immediately! Normal colored vomit with bright red streaks is also possible.

8) Vomit color pink. Pink vomit often appears as pink or light, red streaks of blood in clear or whitish vomit. It can come from bleeding gums or an injury in the mouth or esophagus. It is possible for the red-pink streaks in vomit to be a result of still undigested food particles like tomato skins, goji berries or watermelon. In any case, if you notice anything like this, it’s best to make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.

9) Vomit color brown. Brown vomit indicates bleeding deeper in the gastrointestinal system, usually further from the stomach or blood that has been digested by the stomach. It represents reason for concern because there is fear of a cancer (stomach, liver, pancreas and other cancers). Throwing up brown vomit with a bad smell, similar to stool matter, can indicate an intestinal blockage. People with frequent and significant nosebleeds may also throw up brown. All forms of brown vomit require medical attention.

10) Vomit color black and vomit like coffee grounds. Sometimes, old blood can appear black or look like dark brown or black coffee grounds because it’s digested. While you can get black vomit after drinking cola or eating dark foods like cocoa, dark chocolate, taking charcoal preparations, it is usually a serious symptom that requires immediate medical attention. The biggest concern with throwing up black vomit like coffee grounds is cancer of the esophagus, stomach, pancreas etc. Benign tumors, bleeding ulcerations, cirrhosis, severe stomach lining erosion, pancreatitis are other possible causes. Other symptoms to look out for include abdominal pain, loss of appetite, sudden and significant weight loss, anemia and pallor, fatigue, confusion, rapid heart rate, nausea, dizziness, difficulty breathing etc. Read more about Vomiting: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment.

Conclusion

Vomiting happens as a result of strong, involuntary muscle contractions that drive stomach contents to be projected into the esophagus and mouth. For the most part, it is a protective reflex that allows the body to expel things that could make you sick. But as good as it may be to allow vomiting to take its course for 1-2 days, provided serious dehydration does not occur, watch out for the color of your vomit. This is an important indicator of your health and can tell you if it’s time you saw a doctor. Remember, vomit colors in the red range (pink, red, brown and black) are a sign of bleeding, yellow and green vomit come from bile, while clear, white and even slightly grey or orange vomit are normal.

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4 thoughts on “Vomit Colors: What They Mean”

  1. You missed one, an important one. Vomit that is a whitish-clay color, that looks like a pile of tofu is the main symptom of a complete stomach blockage. When the blockage is above the duodenum, no bile can come into the stomach. The bile goes on downstream and will produce a typical stool color. Since the stomach is blocked, the bile doesn’t enter hence the absence of color in the vomit itself.
    Whitish, tofu looking vomit should always be investigated with an EGD because stomach obstructions don’t go away on their own. The obstruction may fluctuate from a full to a partial obstruction, but either way the victim suffers from incomplete digestion and malnutrition longterm.

    • Thank you, David, for providing truly valuable information! I’ll be sure to update the article soon to include this extremely important cause and the recommendation to seek medical assistance as soon as possible. Wishing you lots of health and please know useful additions such as the information you’ve just provided are always welcome.

    • Hello, Alyssa. Purple and blue vomit colors are pretty rare, but they do occur. They are most often caused by food coloring/food dyes or food pigments, natural or artificial. Unless you know you’ve recently eaten something with strong blue/purple pigments, it’s best to have these vomit colors investigated by a doctor, at least to rule out more serious causes such as bleeding somewhere along the gastrointestinal tract (which may appear a darker color, maybe dark blue or purplish-ish).

      Candy such as lollipops, jellies, gumdrops, sprinkles, confections, chewable vitamins, cough drops, ice cream, fruit and vegetable juices and all sorts of desserts with blue and purple colors can be sources of blue and purple vomit colors, if stomach contents are regurgitated for some reason. A lot of the blue-purple pigments in food come from anthocyanins, antioxidants occurring naturally in purple-blue fruits and vegetables (known as food additive E163).

      The most common, cost-effective sources of natural blue-purple food colors are the anthocyanin-rich aronia berries and elderberry. Sometimes, anthocyanins are mixed with naturally occurring red pigments to get different shades of purple. One such example is betanin obtained from red beetroot (known as food additive E162) or lycopene from red carrots. Hope this helps, Alyssa!

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