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    Bleeding in the Digestive Tract: Why It Happens

    Bleeding in the digestive tract is a symptom of a problem rather than a disease itself. It usually happens due to conditions that can be cured or controlled, such as hemorrhoids.

    The cause of the bleeding may not be serious, but it's important for your doctor to find the source of this symptom. The digestive or gastrointestinal (GI) tract includes the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon, rectum, and anus. Bleeding can come from one or more of these areas -- from a small area such as an ulcer on the lining of the stomach or from a broader problem such as inflammation of the colon.

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    You may not know if it happens. Doctors call this type of bleeding “occult” or “hidden.” Fortunately, simple tests can check for hidden blood in the stool.

    Why Does It Happen?

    The reasons vary, depending on where the bleeding is happening.

    If it’s in your esophagus (the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach) causes can include:

    Esophagitis and gastroesophageal reflux. Stomach acid that returns, or "refluxes," back into the esophagus from the stomach can cause irritation and inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis) that may lead to bleeding.

    Varices. These are abnormally enlarged veins usually located at the lower end of the esophagus or the upper stomach. They may break open and bleed. Cirrhosis of the liver is the most common cause of esophageal varices.

    Mallory-Weiss tear. This is a tear in the lining of the esophagus. It’s usually caused by severe vomiting. It can also happen due to things that increase pressure in your belly, such as coughing, hiccupping, or childbirth.

    Bleeding from the stomach can be caused by:

    Gastritis. This is inflammation in the stomach. Alcohol and some pain medicines can cause it.

    Ulcers. Ones in the stomach may enlarge and erode through a blood vessel, causing bleeding. Aside from medication, the most common cause of these is an infection with a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori. Also, people who have had burns, shock, head injuries, or cancer, and those who've had major surgery, may get stress-related stomach ulcers.

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