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Bleeding in the Digestive Tract

What Causes Bleeding in the Digestive Tract? continued...

Bleeding from the lower digestive tract (colon, rectum, and anus) can be caused by:

  • Hemorrhoids. These are probably the most common cause of visible blood in the lower digestive tract, especially blood that appears bright red. Hemorrhoids are enlarged veins in the anal area that can rupture and produce bright red blood, which can show up in the toilet or on toilet paper.
  • Anal fissures. Tears in the lining of the anus can also cause bleeding. These are often very painful.
  • Colon polyps . These are growths that can occur in the colon. They can be the precursor of cancer and may cause bleeding.
  • Colorectal cancer .
  • Intestinal infections. Inflammation and bloody diarrhea can result from intestinal infections.
  • Ulcerative colitis . Inflammation and extensive surface bleeding from tiny ulcerations can be the reason for blood showing up in the stool.
  • Crohn's disease . This chronic condition also causes inflammation and can result in rectal bleeding.
  • Diverticular disease . Caused by diverticula -- outpouchings of the colon wall.
  • Blood vessel abnormalities. As one gets older, abnormalities may develop in the blood vessels of the large intestine, which may result in recurrent bleeding.
  • Ischemic colitis. Bloody diarrhea, often associated with abdominal pain, can be due to reduced blood flow to the intestine, which results in ischemia, or insufficient oxygen, and damage to cells lining the intestine.

How Is Bleeding in the Digestive Tract Recognized?

The signs of bleeding in the digestive tract depend on the site and severity of bleeding.

If blood is coming from the rectum or the lower colon, bright red blood will coat or mix with your stool. The stool may be mixed with darker blood if the bleeding is higher up in the colon or at the far end of the small intestine.

When there is bleeding in the esophagus, stomach, or duodenum, the stool is usually black, tarry, and very foul smelling. Vomit may be bright red or have a "coffee-grounds" appearance when bleeding is from the esophagus, stomach, or duodenum.

If bleeding is occult, or hidden, you might not notice any changes in stool color.

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