Possible Causes Of Blood In Stool

By:    Published: June 11, 2012

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Blood in the stool can be a sign of something serious going on in your body, so it’s important to understand how to recognize this symptom and what might be causing it. In any case, you’ll need to see a doctor if you’re experiencing blood stools so that you can begin treatment right away.

Symptoms To Watch For

There are several ways that you might notice that there is blood in your stool. Watch for the following symptoms:

  • Black, tarry stools
  • Maroon-colored stools
  • Bright red blood coating the stool
  • Blood found on the toilet paper after wiping
  • Blood found in the toilet bowl when having a bowel movement

Other symptoms which may accompany bloody stools include:

  • Abdominal pain or cramps
  • Rectal pain
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Anal itching
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Narrow stools
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Frequent urges to have bowel movements
  • Unintended weight loss

Each of these symptoms may indicate a different potential cause or condition, so it’s important to note which of the symptoms above you are experiencing when you see the doctor.

Possible Causes of Black, Tarry Stools

If you are experiencing black, tarry stools, it could be a sign of an issue in the upper part of your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This includes the esophagus, the stomach and the first part of the small intestine. The tarry appearance of the stools is a result of the blood being exposed to the body’s digestive juices as it moves through the GI tract.

The following are some of the potential causes of black, tarry stools:

  • Trauma to the GI tract
  • A foreign body lodged in the GI tract
  • Bleeding in the stomach
  • Ulcers
  • Inflammation of the stomach lining
  • Insufficient blood flow to the intestines
  • Widened, overgrown veins in the stomach or esophagus
  • A tear in the esophagus, possibly from violent vomiting
  • Abnormal blood vessels

Possible Causes Of Maroon-Colored Or Bright Red, Bloody Stools

Some people experience bloody stools that are more maroon in color. Others have stools which appear to be coated in bright red blood. In both of these cases, the cause is most likely due to an issue in the lower part of the GI tract, which includes the large bowel, the rectum and the anus).

The following are some of the potential causes of maroon-colored or bright red, bloody stools:

  • Anal fissures
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Intestinal infection
  • Trauma or foreign body in the lower GI tract
  • Bowel ischemia (blood flow cut off to part of the intestines)
  • Abnormal collections of blood vessels
  • Abnormal pouches in the colon
  • Colon polyps
  • Colon cancer
  • Small bowel tumor

Of these possible causes, hemorrhoids are the most common reason that individuals experience bloody stools. Hemorrhoids are usually detected by bright red blood in the stool or on toilet paper along with anal itching, anal pain, hard and tender lumps near the anus and painful bowel movements.

Other Possible Causes

In some cases, ingesting certain foods or medicines can alter the appearance of your stool so that they appear like they may contain blood even if they don’t. For example, stools can have a black, tarry appearance if a person eats black licorice, blueberries, iron pills or bismuth medicines like Pepto-Bismol. Reddish stools may result from eating beets or tomatoes.

In either case, it may be difficult to tell whether there is really blood in the stool or whether the stool’s appearance comes from eating certain foods or taking certain medications. It’s a good idea to see a doctor to rule out the possibility of blood being in the stool just in case.

For children, bloody stools may indicate different issues. For example, a small amount of blood in a child’s stools is usually not serious and is often caused by milk allergies or constipation. However, this should still be checked out by a doctor to rule out more serious causes.

(For more information on stool colors, read Stool Color Meanings: What Your Poo Can Tell You.)

Diagnosis And Treatment

Although blood in the stool does not necessarily indicate a serious problem, all individuals are advised to see a doctor right away if they notice changes in the color of their stool or blood in their stool. Even though hemorrhoids are the most common cause of this symptom, it’s important to get checked out by a doctor to rule out other possible causes of the blood stools.

Diagnosis of the cause of bloody stools may involve several examinations and procedures. The doctor may need to check the stool to ensure that there is blood in it, and then blood studies may be performed from there. In some cases, x-rays, endoscopy, colonoscopy and other methods are necessary to determine the source of the bleeding.

Treatment depends on the particular cause of the bloody stools. Hemorrhoids are usually easy to treat with creams and stool softeners, but other causes of bloody stools may require medications, blood transfusions or even surgical procedures to treat.

The good news is that the most common cause of bloody stools – hemorrhoids – is a fairly harmless condition that is easy to treat in most cases. However, it’s important to see a doctor right away if you are experiencing bloody stools since it could indicate a more serious condition.

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