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A retrospective survey of 157 consecutive admissions for haematemesis was carried out in order to determine whether patients at low risk of adverse events could be identified at the time of admission from simple clinical features. In addition to known prognostic factors such as hypotension, tachycardia and anaemia, we studied the character of the vomit classified into altered or frank blood. Death, surgical intervention and transfusion of more than 2 units of blood were defined as 'adverse events'. No adverse event occurred in 37 patients who vomited only altered blood and who did not have melaena, or in 42 patients with a concentration of haemoglobin of 12 g/dl or more who vomited altered blood only. Classification by other prognostic criteria was not as sensitive. These results suggested that patients with haematemesis who have negligible risk of serious sequelae can be identified at an early stage in the course of their disease from simple features of clinical history and examination. Excessive use of resources should be avoided in such patients, and selective admission may be justified.