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    Bleeding in the Digestive Tract: Why It Happens

    What Are the Symptoms? continued...

    When there's bleeding in the esophagus, stomach, or duodenum (part of the small intestine), 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 hidden, you might not notice any changes in stool color.

    Keep in mind that some medications, such as iron, bismuth, and the antibiotic cefdinir, and some foods, such as beets, can give the stool a red or black appearance that looks like blood but isn't.

    Symptoms also vary depending on how quickly you bleed.

    If sudden, massive bleeding happens, you may feel weak, dizzy, faint, short of breath, or have cramp-like belly pain or diarrhea. You could go into shock, with a rapid pulse and drop in blood pressure. You may become pale.

    If bleeding is slow and happens over a long time, you may gradually feel fatigue, lethargy, and shortness of breath. Anemia can happen, making your skin look more pale.

    What Your Doctor Will Check

    If you notice any unusual bleeding, make an appointment to see your doctor. She'll ask you questions and give you a physical examination. Symptoms such as changes in bowel habits, stool color (black or red), consistency, and whether you have pain or tenderness may tell your doctor which area of the GI tract is affected.

    She'll test your stool for blood. You'll also take a blood test to check to see if you're anemic. The results will give your doctor an idea of the extent of the bleeding and how chronic it may be.

    If you have bleeding in your digestive tract, you'll likely get an endoscopy. This common procedure lets your doctor see exactly where the symptom is happening. In many cases, the doctor can use the endoscope to treat the cause of bleeding, too. It's a thin, flexible tool that she can insert through your mouth or rectum to see the areas of concern and take a tissue sample, or biopsy, if needed.

    Several other procedures can be used to find the source of bleeding, including:

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