Why vomit changes color

Vomiting isn’t a disease in itself. It’s a symptom that accompanies a variety of conditions, ranging from infection to chronic illness.

Oftentimes, its color will change as your body progresses through each stage of the underlying condition. For example, vomit as a result of the stomach flu may start as green or yellow and progress to orange.

Vomiting that only lasts days usually isn’t considered serious. It may just be your body’s reaction to irritation in your gut or a way of getting rid of harmful things in your stomach.

Short bouts of vomiting are usually tied to acute illnesses like food poisoning. If you experience a cyclic pattern of vomiting over weeks or months, it may be caused by a chronic condition.

Keep reading to learn what each color of vomit may mean and when you should see your doctor.

What do the different vomit colors mean?

clearwhite or foamygreen or yelloworangepink or red (bloody)brownblack
Acid reflux
Bile reflux
Blocked bowel
Blocked intestine
Children: birth defects
Children: blood clotting disorders
Children: dietary intolerance to milk
Concussion or brain injury
Cyclic vomiting disorder
Damage to throat, mouth, or gums
Food poisoning
Fungal infection
Gastric outlet obstruction
Injury to mouth or throat from frequent vomiting
Liver failure
Mallory-Weiss tear
Morning sickness
Peptic ulcer
Severe constipation
Stomach cancer

What does clear vomit mean?

Clear vomit usually occurs after you’ve already thrown up several times, effectively emptying your stomach of its food contents.

This may result from conditions like:

In these cases, you may go on to throw up bile. Bile is usually yellow or green.

Clear vomit is also caused by:

  • Gastric outlet obstruction. This occurs when your stomach is completely blocked by something like a tumor or ulcer. When you have this type of obstruction, nothing you eat or drink can get through, including saliva or water.
  • Head injury. Some people experience frequent, severe vomiting after a head injury. In severe cases, clear vomit may be a sign of brain damage.

What does white or foamy vomit mean?

Your vomit may appear white if you’ve eaten something white, like ice cream or milk.

Foamy vomit may develop if you have excess gas in your stomach. You should see your doctor if it lasts for more than a day or two.

Conditions that cause excess gas include:

  • Acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Reflux occurs when stomach acids flow back into your esophagus from the stomach. Other symptoms include a burning sensation in your throat, chest pain, and trouble swallowing.
  • Gastritis. This refers to inflammation in the lining of your stomach. This can develop if you take certain painkillers long term or drink excessive amounts of alcohol. Other symptoms include indigestion, fullness in the upper abdomen after eating, and nausea.

What does green or yellow vomit mean?

Green or yellow vomit may indicate that you’re bringing up a fluid called bile. This fluid is created by the liver and stored in your gallbladder.

Bile isn’t always cause for concern. You may see it if you have a less serious condition that causes vomiting while your stomach is empty. This includes the stomach flu and morning sickness.

Green or yellow vomit may also be caused by a blockage in your bowel. This is usually due to gallstones or a hernia. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, constipation, and abdominal cramping.

What does orange vomit mean?

You may see orange vomiting in the of an illness that causes vomiting. The color may persist if you continue eating between vomiting episodes, as orange is the color of partially digested foods.

Unless it persists for more than a day or two, orange vomit usually isn’t cause for concern.

Orange vomit is commonly caused by:

  • Food poisoning after eating contaminated foods. Other symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever.
  • Gastroenteritis or stomach flu. This virus may result from contact with a person who is infected or from contaminated food and water. Other symptoms include a low-grade fever, muscle aches, and abdominal pain.
  • Influenza or the flu. This illness may begin rather abruptly. The symptoms are similar to a common cold with runny nose and sore throat. As it progresses, you may develop a persistent fever, fatigue, chills, and headache.
  • Migraines. With a migraine, you experience intense headaches. They may last for a few or even days at a time. You may feel the urge to vomit as the migraine peaks, or experience recurrent vomiting if the pain persists.
  • Vomiting related to pregnancy (morning sickness). As the hormones build up in the body during pregnancy, you may become nauseous and vomit. Up to percent of women who are pregnant experience vomiting. Although this condition is called morning sickness, vomiting may occur at any time.

You may also vomit orange as a result of:

In these cases, orange vomit is usually temporary. Your vomit will likely progress to another color.

What does pink or red (bloody) vomit mean?

Vomiting large amounts of blood is also called hematemesis. Although it’s often pink or bright red, it may also appear black or dark brown.

You should always see your doctor if you have pink, red, or otherwise bloody vomit.

In children, bloody vomit may be a sign of:

  • dietary intolerance to milk
  • swallowed blood from injury to the mouth
  • certain blood clotting disorders
  • birth defects

In adults, pink or red vomit is commonly caused by:

  • Damage to your throat, mouth, or gums from coughing or vomiting. Small amounts of blood may not be reason for alarm. But if you see a amount or it looks like coffee grounds, call your doctor to rule out more serious conditions.
  • Peptic ulcers or torn blood vessels. These conditions may cause bleeding in your upper gastrointestinal tract. This includes your mouth, esophagus, stomach, and upper small intestine.
  • Amyloidosis. This happens when protein builds up in your vital organs. You may experience anything from diarrhea to bloating to vomiting blood.
  • Liver failure. This condition primarily affects people who have a pre-existing liver disease. You may notice yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes. Other symptoms include swelling of the abdomen, pain in the upper right abdomen, and feeling sleepy or confused.
  • Mallory-Weiss tear. This refers to a tear in your esophagus resulting from frequent and particularly forceful vomiting episodes.

What does brown vomit mean?

There are two possible causes of brown vomit.

In many cases, this color is actually a shade of blood. If it resembles light coffee grounds, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. This may be the result of peptic ulcers, amyloidosis, or other severe underlying condition.

Severe constipation can also cause brown vomiting. This condition inhibits digestion. As a result, your vomit may smell like fecal matter. Other symptoms may include bloating and severe abdominal pain. See your doctor for diagnosis.

What does black vomit mean?

Black may also be a shade of bloody vomit. It might even resemble dark coffee grounds.

Your vomit may appear black if the blood has been oxidized by the acids in your stomach. The iron in your blood turns brown to black with time. Since the blood is no longer bright red, it means that the bleeding has either stopped or is only happening in a

Black vomit is caused by the conditions that cause bloody vomit (detailed in the previous section). You should see your doctor as soon as possible to receive a diagnosis.

In cases, black vomit may be the result of a fungal infection like phaeohyphomycosis. This infection can develop after contact with black mold cultures. You may be more likely to develop this condition if you’ve had a bone marrow or organ transplant, or if you’re exposed to soil through farming or other outdoor work.

What if the vomit texture changes?

In some cases, your vomit may change texture simply based on the contents of your stomach or how long it’s been since you’ve eaten certain things. The texture may also change if you’ve had repeated vomiting episodes — first throwing up food, then bile, and stomach acids.

These changes usually aren’t reason to worry, but if you see anything unusual or experience other symptoms, it’s a good idea to let your doctor know.

When to see your doctor

Contact your doctor or seek immediate medical attention if you see amounts of blood in your vomit. Remember: The color of blood may range from red to brown to black.

You should skip the drive and call your local emergency number if your bloody vomit is accompanied by dizziness, rapid or shallow breathing, or other signs of shock.

Green or yellow vomit may also be a sign of a more serious condition, like bile reflux. If you have risk factors or experience other concerning symptoms, it’s a good idea to see your doctor.

You should also see your doctor if:

  • Your vomiting has lasted hours and isn’t getting better.
  • You’re unable to keep down any fluids.
  • You have signs of dehydration, including dizziness or headache.
  • You’ve lost weight from vomiting.
  • You have diabetes. Repeated vomiting may impact your blood sugar levels.
  • You have severe chest pain. This may indicate a heart attack.

You should also let your doctor know if you experience frequent episodes of vomiting. This may be an indication of cyclic vomiting disorder, which is caused by certain neurological conditions. With cyclic vomiting, you may throw up at the same time each day for a certain period of time.

The bottom line

Oftentimes, vomiting is an irritating, but not life threatening, part of illness. The colors and textures you see may have to do with the contents of your stomach or how long you’ve been vomiting.

Some colors, like red, brown, or black, may indicate more serious or rare conditions that require medical attention.

You should make an appointment to see your doctor if you’re seeing unusual shades or if vomiting has lasted longer than days.