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Blood in StoolConditions
Overview

Blood in your stool may indicate of bleeding along any portion of your gastrointestinal (GI) tract - from mouth to anus – and might not always be visible to the naked eye. Depending on where the bleeding originates, it can look different. Bleeding from the lower GI tract, like the colon or anus, can appear bright red or maroon and may mix with your stool. Bleeding from higher up in the GI system, like the esophagus, stomach, or small intestine, might look sticky or black, resembling tar. Sometimes, the bleeding can't be seen because it's microscopic or mixed into the stool – this is called occult bleeding.

Symptoms

Blood in your stool could be caused by any number of factors and any time you notice blood following a bowel movement it's important to take it seriously. Although it could sometimes be minor, blood in stool could signal more serious health concerns that require professional evaluation. Gastroenterologists specialize in diagnosing and managing gastrointestinal bleeding so if you see blood it's wise to seek professional advice immediately.

Testing

Finding out the cause of GI bleeding requires an in-depth assessment. Your symptoms, personal and family medical histories, and physical exam are considered. Blood and stool tests may also be conducted. In many instances, endoscopy and colonoscopy procedures need to be performed to directly visualize and treat the source of bleeding. Additional imaging such as small bowel capsule endoscopy or CT scans might be necessary as well. While we typically identify the source quickly, in some instances, additional testing or repeat exams might be required. Common causes of GI bleeding include hemorrhoids, fissures, ulcers, polyps, cancers, inflammatory bowel disease, and blood vessel malformations (spider veins).

Treatment

Treatments for GI tract bleeding vary depending on its source and severity. Medication may help, such as antacids for ulcers or topical ointments for hemorrhoids. In other instances, we may use cautery (burning device) or clips during an endoscopic procedure to stop bleeding vessels. At times we collaborate with colorectal surgeons who specialize in treating conditions like bleeding hemorrhoids, anal fissures, or bleeding that cannot be managed medically or endoscopically.