Clear Vomit: Causes & Common Questions

If you have been vomiting for awhile, then it is common to begin to vomit clear liquid and stomach bile, especially if you have been drinking water and have not eaten anything recently. Reasons for clear vomit can arise from a stomach infection, food poisoning, indigestion, pregnancy, or a symptom of chemotherapy. Read below for more causes and treatment options.

Symptoms of vomiting clear liquid

There are many terms to describe the act of vomiting, each perhaps less pleasant than the last. Although outlining the characteristics of vomit like the color may make you want to do so, it is an important process in determining the cause and any possibility of serious implications.

Evaluating the color and consistency of vomit could be referred to as an art, far less sophisticated than interpreting tea leaves, however. The color and consistency of vomit can reveal where the problem is in the gastrointestinal tract, whether or not there is active bleeding in the esophagus, stomach or intestines, and can even provide a clue as to when you last ate.

Bright or dark red vomit is indicative of bleeding somewhere in the gastrointestinal tract. Greenish or yellowish vomit usually contains bile and can indicate a blockage somewhere in the bowel. Brown vomit can happen when there is bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract (or if you just ate or drank something brown, of course).

Clear vomiting symptoms occur when one or more of the following conditions have been met

Clear vomiting is characterized by:

  • You have vomited so much that you have emptied your stomach of all food, fluid, and bile
  • You have been drinking lots of water
  • You have not eaten for a long time prior to vomiting

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7 Clear vomit causes

Vomiting helps to get rid of toxins or poisons that have been ingested. Vomiting is also a normal response to certain central nervous system stimuli or high levels of hormones.

Environmental causes

Environmental causes of clear vomit can be related to certain occurrences or exposures.

  • Acute gastroenteritis: The most common cause of clear vomiting is acute gastroenteritis, an infection in the gut caused by exposure to bacteria, viruses, or parasites.
  • Chemotherapy: Exposure to cancer chemotherapy can lead to vomiting because many cancer medications stimulate the vomiting center of the brain.
  • Drugs/alcohol: Some drugs also stimulate the vomiting center of the brain. Others (including alcohol) cause vomiting due to their toxic effect on the body.
  • Surgery: Some people vomit after surgery, in response to general anesthesia.

Gastrointestinal causes

Gastrointestinal causes of clear vomiting can be related to the following.

  • Obstruction: Vomiting may be a symptom of obstruction in the gastrointestinal tract, particularly in the bowel. When the blood flow to the small intestine is compromised (mesenteric ischemia) vomiting may result.
  • Other causes: Vomiting can also occur in acute pancreatitis, gallbladder disease and reflux.

Central nervous system causes

Alterations in the structure (e.g. tumors or stroke) or function (e.g. motion sickness or seizures) of the brain can trigger vomiting. Infection, migraine headaches, injury, and vertigo may also cause vomiting.

Hormonal causes

High levels of the pregnancy hormone beta-HCG can induce vomiting. The levels of beta-HCG peak at the end of the first trimester of pregnancy, which is when most women start to get relief from morning sickness.

Psychiatric causes

Bulimia is an eating disorder. People affected by bulimia have patterns of binge eating, followed by behaviors that prevent weight gain - including self-induced vomiting.

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Non-specific nausea and vomiting

Nausea and vomiting with no recognizable cause.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: nausea, vomiting

Symptoms that always occur with non-specific nausea and vomiting: nausea, vomiting

Symptoms that never occur with non-specific nausea and vomiting: diarrhea, fever, headache

Urgency: Self-treatment

Indigestion (dyspepsia)

Indigestion, also called upset stomach, dyspepsia, or functional dyspepsia, is not a disease but a collection of very common symptoms. Note: Heartburn is a separate condition.

Common causes are eating too much or too rapidly; greasy or spicy foods; overdoing caffeine, alcohol, or carbonated beverages; smoking; and anxiety. Some antibiotics, pain relievers, and vitamin/mineral supplements can cause indigestion.

The most common symptoms are pain, discomfort, and bloating in the upper abdomen soon after eating.

Indigestion that lasts longer than two weeks, and does not respond to simple treatment, may indicate a more serious condition. Upper abdominal pain that radiates to the jaw, neck, or arm is a medical emergency.

Diagnosis is made through patient history and physical examination. If the symptoms began suddenly, laboratory tests on blood, breath, and stool may be ordered. Upper endoscopy or abdominal x-ray may be done.

For functional dyspepsia – "ordinary" indigestion – treatment and prevention are the same. Eating five or six smaller meals per day with lighter, simpler food; managing stress; and finding alternatives for some medications will provide relief.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: nausea, stomach bloating, dyspeptic symptoms, bloating after meals, vomiting

Symptoms that always occur with indigestion (dyspepsia): dyspeptic symptoms

Symptoms that never occur with indigestion (dyspepsia): vomiting (old) blood or passing tarry stools, rectal bleeding, bloody diarrhea, fever

Urgency: Self-treatment

Viral (norovirus) infection

If you ever heard of an entire cruise ship of people coming down with the same “stomach bug,” chances are that was norovirus. Fortunately, norovirus usually goes away on its own after a few days, but is pretty unpleasant and can spread extremely easily. The ...

Food poisoning

Food poisoning, also called foodborne illness or "stomach flu," is an acute infection of the digestive tract from food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, or other toxins. It actually has no relation to influenza.

Any food can become contaminated if not prepared under clean conditions, cooked thoroughly, or stored at cold temperatures. Meat, fish, dairy products, and fresh fruits and vegetables are some of the most easily contaminated foods.

Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, and sometimes fever and chills.

Most people recover on their own with supportive care, meaning rest, fluids, and over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers.

However, dehydration can result if the vomiting and/or diarrhea are not controlled and IV fluids may be needed.

If there is also blurred vision, dizziness, or paralysis, the nervous system may be affected due to botulism. This is a medical emergency. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Proper food preparation and storage, along with frequent and thorough handwashing, is the best prevention.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: nausea, abdominal pain (stomach ache), headache, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), dizziness

Symptoms that never occur with food poisoning: severe fever, being severely ill, bloody diarrhea

Urgency: Self-treatment

Functional dyspepsia/indigestion

Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, is a condition that causes pain or discomfort in the stomach after eating. In some cases, indigestion also causes heartburn, burping, and nausea. Indigestion or dyspepsia is a very common complaint and in most cases there is no serious underlying cause. This is when doctors call it 'functional'.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: stomach bloating, nausea, dyspeptic symptoms, bloating after meals, vomiting

Symptoms that always occur with functional dyspepsia/indigestion: dyspeptic symptoms

Symptoms that never occur with functional dyspepsia/indigestion: vomiting (old) blood or passing tarry stools, rectal bleeding, bloody diarrhea, fever

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Acute gastritis

When something interferes with the protective mechanisms of the stomach, a range of problems can occur from mild indigestion to deadly bleeding ulcers. Gastritis is an umbrella term for one of the most common problems, inflammation of the stomach lining.

Symptoms include nausea or vomiting,...

Cyclic vomiting syndrome

Cyclic vomiting syndrome is characterized by episodes of severe vomiting that have no apparent cause. Episodes can last for hours or days and alternate with relatively symptom-free periods of time.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, nausea, headache, abdominal pain (stomach ache), trouble sleeping

Symptoms that always occur with cyclic vomiting syndrome: episodic vomiting

Urgency: Primary care doctor

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Treatments and relief for clear vomit

When clear vomiting is an emergency

Seek immediate medical care if you have clear vomit with:

  • Fever
  • Chest or stomach pain
  • Bloody stools
  • Severe headache or stiff neck
  • Lethargy
  • Recent head injury
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Signs of dehydration: Fatigue, excessive thirst, dry mouth or tongue, muscle cramps, dizziness, confusion, and/or dark urine
  • Bloating
  • Symptoms lasting for more than two days
  • Flu-like symptoms which are worsening
  • An inability to hold down any liquid or solid food for 24 hours

At-home treatments for clear vomiting

Most clear vomiting symptoms will resolve on their own after two to three days. During this time, it is important to practice the following:

  • Stay well-hydrated: Water is essential, however, you should also try to replace electrolytes lost during clear vomiting. Sports drinks (e.g. Gatorade) and electrolyte supplements (e.g. Pedialyte) provide both fluid and electrolyte replacement. If you can tolerate beverages, you may gradually progress your diet.
  • Gradually reintroduce bland foods: Once you can hold down clear fluids, try foods that are soft and bland.
  • Gradually reintroduce other carbs: If soft, bland foods stay down, try small amounts of carbohydrates such as crackers or bread. Fatty foods should be avoided as they are most likely to make vomiting worse.
  • Try ginger supplements: The use of ginger teas, chews, and other ginger supplements have been shown to reduce clear vomiting symptoms, especially the vomiting associated with early pregnancy.

Over-the-counter antiemetics

There are also over-the-counter and prescription antiemetic (anti-vomiting) medications that can be used, such as:

  • Kaopectate
  • Pepto-bismol
  • Antihistamines: Such as Dramamine

When to see a doctor for clear vomiting

Clear vomiting symptoms caused by chronic, underlying conditions, such as migraines, should be treated by a healthcare provider. Vomiting due to underlying, chronic conditions may require more complex medication management than what is included here. However a few possible prescription antiemetics your doctor may prescribe include:

  • Ondansetron
  • Metoclopramide
  • Diclegis (approved for use in pregnancy)
  • Compazine
  • Phenergan

FAQs about clear vomit

Why do I throw up clear fluid in the morning?

Most commonly, early morning vomiting is associated with early pregnancy in what is called morning sickness. However, you may also experience nausea or vomiting in the morning due to low blood sugar (from not eating all night), acid reflux or GERD (which is worsened by lying flat), sleep apnea, or stress. Your vomit is clear because there is nothing in your stomach in the morning; you havent eaten since last night!

Why am I throwing up clear liquid while pregnant?

Pregnancy is a time of massive hormonal change in the body. This can lead to hormone imbalance transiently, which can cause nausea and vomiting. Pregnant women often experience bouts of nausea and vomiting in the morning during the first trimester. This is called morning sickness. Your vomit is clear because your stomach is empty.

Can clear vomit be a sign of a stomach virus?

Yes, clear vomit can be a sign of a stomach virus. Vomit is generally clear when you have not eaten in awhile, you have ingested a lot of water, or you have previously vomited all prior food from your stomach. Many stomach viruses cause nausea, which may stop you from eating, or cause repeated bouts of vomiting until there is nothing left in your stomach to color your vomit.

Can clear vomit be a result of no food in the stomach or drinking too much water?

Clear vomit usually means there is nothing left in your stomach to be vomited up other than gastric secretions. When you vomit, your body violently contracts the stomach to send its contents upward and out of your mouth. If you have not eaten in awhile, the prior eaten food will have started digestion and moved beyond your stomach to your small intestine, leaving nothing behind to vomit except clear liquid and mucus. Your vomit may be clear if you drank a lot of water recently as well. Rapid overconsumption of water can also lead to vomiting, as your stomach becomes overdistended and forces you to vomit.

When should you seek medical attention for clear vomit?

Everyone gets sick on occasion with a stomach bug, food poisoning, or another cause of vomiting. Most of these conditions can be managed at home. Certain warning signs should prompt you to seek attention for your clear vomiting. These include: inability to keep down liquids for a prolonged period, signs of severe dehydration including dizziness, severe belly pain, a change in vomit color to bloody or coffee ground-like, high fever, chest pain, or difficulty breathing.

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Questions your doctor may ask about clear vomit

  • Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Have you lost your appetite recently?
  • Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Are you experiencing a headache?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

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