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Upper GI Bleeding (Hematemesis)


 What is upper GI bleeding?
 What is the cause?
 What are the symptoms?
 How is it diagnosed?
 How is it treated?
 How can I take care of myself?
 How can I help prevent GI bleeding?

Digestive System: Illustration
Digestive System: IllustrationClick here to view a full size picture.

What is upper GI bleeding?

Upper GI bleeding is bleeding from the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth and stomach), the stomach, or the first part of the small intestine after the stomach.

What is the cause?

Common causes of upper GI bleeding are:

Sometimes the esophagus bleeds because it is torn after forceful coughing or vomiting.

It’s unusual but possible for cancers of the stomach and esophagus to cause a lot of blood to be coughed-up or vomited.

What are the symptoms?

Vomiting blood can be a very frightening experience. In mild cases, you may notice small amounts of bright, red blood in your vomit. Or you may see dark brown or black material that looks like coffee grounds. This is blood that has been digested by your stomach. If the bleeding is severe, you may keep vomiting large amounts of bright red blood. If you are having bloody vomit, you need to get medical care right away.

You may have other symptoms, depending on the cause of the bleeding. These symptoms may be:

Black, tarry stools may mean that you have had bleeding from your stomach or intestines for some time. Blood that passes through the intestines is digested and looks black.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. You may have tests to measure how much blood you have lost and to see if your blood has problems clotting. The tests may also help find why you are having the bleeding. Tests may include:

How is it treated?

The treatment for upper GI bleeding depends on its cause, your symptoms, your overall health, and any complications you may have. The goals are to stop the bleeding and find and treat the cause of the bleeding.

If the bleeding is mild (occasional or small amount), the treatment will depend on the cause of the bleeding. For example, your healthcare provider may prescribe medicine to:

If the bleeding is severe, you will be treated in the emergency room and hospital. You will have a needle (IV) inserted into a vein in your hand or arm. This will allow for medicine to be given directly into your blood and to give you fluids, if needed. You may also be given oxygen with a small tube placed under your nose or through a mask placed over your face. You may have a tube put through your nose down into your stomach (a nasogastric or NG tube). The tube may be used to give fluids or medicine. Your provider can also use the tube to get samples of stomach fluids to see if the bleeding has stopped.

If you have lost a lot of blood, you may need a blood transfusion.

If you have severe bleeding in your esophagus that cannot be stopped, a special tube with a balloon on the end of it may be inserted into your esophagus. Once in place, the balloon can be filled with air so that it presses on the area of bleeding to stop it.

In rare cases you may need surgery to treat the bleeding.

How can I take care of myself?

How can I help prevent GI bleeding?

Prompt treatment of the frequent causes of vomiting blood may keep it from ever happening. Tell your healthcare provider if you have stomach pain, heartburn, or acid indigestion.

If you drink too much alcohol, you are at high risk of developing scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and problems with your esophagus and stomach that may cause sudden, severe bleeding. You will need to get help with your drinking problem.

healthinformatics info

Reference Sources:

McPhee,S.J., Papadakis, M.A., Eds. Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment. 50th ed.McGraw-Hill, 2011.


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Last Modified: 2013-02-09

Last Reviewed: 2012-11-05

Website Updated: March 2014

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Published by RelayHealth. © 2014 RelayHealth and/or one of its affiliates. All Rights Reserved.

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.


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