Throwing Up Bile: Causes, Treatments, and Complications


If you’re vomiting greenish-yellow material, it could be bile. Bile is a fluid that’s made in your liver and stored in your gallbladder. The bile then travels to the small intestine where it aids in digestion of fats.

Bile is comprised of bile salts (bilirubin), cholesterol, electrolytes and water.

There are several reasons why you might vomit bile.

  • Empty stomach can cause vomiting
  • binge drinking
  • food poisoning
  • A blockage in your intestines

You might have a medical condition if you are unable to vomit bile consistently. Bile reflux is the most common reason. This happens when bile from your liver backs up into your stomach or esophagus. After gastric surgery, reflux can occur.

Acid reflux is different from bile reflux. Acid reflux occurs when acid from your stomach backs up into your esophagus. You can sometimes have both.

You could have a blockage in your intestines due to:

  • Adhesions.These scarring areas can develop in the intestines following abdominal or pelvic surgery.
  • Colorectal cancerOther cancerous tumors. These tumors may grow to the point that they block part of your intestines.
  • Diverticulitis.Small pouches can form in the intestinal wall.
  • Hernia.This is when a part of your intestine becomes weaker and bulges out into your abdomen or another part.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can cause inflammation in the intestine.
  • Volvulus.This is called twisting the intestine.

The treatment for throwing up bile depends on what’s causing it. If you have food poisoning or you’ve been binge drinking, you may need to get intravenous fluids and electrolytes in the hospital.

Your doctor may recommend one of these drugs if you have bile reflux.

  • Ursodeoxycholic acids. This drug changes the bile’s composition to allow it to flow more easily throughout your body. Side effects include diarrhea.
  • Bile acid sequestrants. These drugs can disrupt the flow of bile. Side effects include bloating and nausea.

If medications don’t control the problem, the next step might be surgery. Rouxen-en-Y gastric bypass can be used to treat bile acid reflux. This procedure is also used for obesity. This creates a new connection between the small and large intestines to prevent bile from leaking into the stomach.

You can also have surgery to treat adhesions and blockages in your bowel. Your doctor will determine the source of the obstruction. They may also remove a piece of your intestine if it’s damaged. To keep the area open and to relieve the blockage, another option is to insert a wire mesh tube (called a stent) into your intestine.

Colorectal carcinoma is treated according to how advanced the cancer has spread. There are many options for treatment, including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and targeted therapies.

Certain lifestyle changes can help lower the risk of vomiting bile.

  • To lower your risk of vomiting from drinking, don’t drink more than one or two alcoholic beverages per day.
  • To lower your risk of colorectal cancer, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, don’t smoke, and get screened with a colonoscopy or other test if you’re 50 or over.
  • To lower your risk of developing a hernia, don’t lift objects that are too heavy.
  • Consume a high-fiber diet to lower your chance of developing diverticulitis.

Call your doctor if you’re throwing up bile and have symptoms of reflux.

Get medical help right away if you’re:

  • Losing weight without even trying
  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Having severe pain in your stomach
  • Red or similar looking material can be vomited.
  • Unable to stop vomiting

If you don’t already have a primary care doctor, you can browse doctors in your area through the Healthline FindCare tool.

Your outlook depends on what’s causing you to throw up bile. The cause of the symptom is usually food poisoning, binge drinking, or both. Avoiding excess alcohol or contaminated foods can help ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

A bowel obstruction can become serious — very quickly in some cases — if you don’t treat it. This can cause pockets of infection called abscesses in the intestines. Sepsis, a blood infection, is another possibility. This can be avoided by having surgery to remove the blockage.

The outlook for colorectal cancer depends on the stage of the cancer and how it’s treated. If IBD or diverticulitis is the cause, treatment will be beneficial.

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