There is Blood in my Stool. What Does it Mean?

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Medical kit for the sampling of feces and empty urine sample cup

For some people, the sight of blood – any blood – makes them woozy and want to look away. However, if it shows up in your bowel movements or on the toilet paper after wiping, it’s not something you should ignore. Even though it doesn’t necessarily signal a serious problem, it is definitely something you should discuss with your doctor.

Seeing traces of blood in the stool is actually one of the more common complaints for which patients see their doctor. It signals that there is bleeding somewhere in your digestive tract – anywhere from the esophagus (food pipe) to the rectum or anus. The color of the blood is an important clue in determining the source of the bleeding – dark or tarry blood may indicate a bleed in the upper portion of the digestive tract while bright red blood is more likely coming from the lower portion of the tract which includes the colon, rectum and anus.

“Much of the time, blood in the stool is found to be caused by benign conditions like hemorrhoids,” says UH colorectal surgeon, Ronald Charles, MD. “However, in some cases it can be a symptom of a potentially life-threatening disorder. As such, it should always be evaluated by a health care professional.”

What to Expect at your Evaluation

To evaluate blood in the stool, your doctor will begin by taking a medical history and performing a physical exam. The physical exam will include an anal exam to help determine if the bleeding is due to something clearly visible, like hemorrhoids, fissures or anal polyps or tumors, which may or may not be cancerous. Your doctor may also order blood tests to look for clotting problems, anemia or infections that could be causing the bleeding.

If no obvious source of the bleeding can be found, it may be necessary to undergo additional testing to determine the cause of the problem. These tests may include colonoscopy, upper endoscopy and occasionally other specialized imaging procedures if significant bleeding from the small intestine is a potential concern.

Based on the results of the physical exam and other diagnostic exams, your doctor will determine what is causing the bleeding and formulate an appropriate treatment plan. Diagnoses may include:

  • Hemorrhoids – swollen, irritated veins in or around the anus and lower rectum
  • Anal fissures – small cuts or tears in the anal tissue, often caused by passing large, hard stools
  • Diverticulosis – the formation of small pouches in the colon wall that can become infected or bleed
  • Angiodysplasia
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Ischemic Colitis
  • Colorectal or anal cancer

Blood in Stool Treatments

The treatment(s) your doctor prescribes will vary greatly depending on the diagnosis. They may include medications, minimally invasive endoscopic techniques to stop the bleeding or, in some cases, surgery. For some diagnoses, your treatment may include or even be limited to some simple home therapies such as eating a high fiber diet to relieve constipation and taking warm shallow baths to sooth anal fissures and hemorrhoids.

Related links:

University Hospitals has a team of highly trained specialists in digestive health and colorectal surgery with the expertise to diagnose and treat a full spectrum of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, ranging from hemorrhoids and fissures to cancers of the bowel, rectum and anus.

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