It can be alarming to discover blood in your stool, but it’s actually more common than you think. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it seriously, however. Whether you notice the blood after wiping from a bowel movement or it was discovered through a test at the doctor’s, this may or may not be serious.
Only further testing by your doctor can determine the final diagnosis. Generally, blood in your stool means there is a source of bleeding at some point in your digestive tract. You may not even be able to notice the blood with the naked eye, while other times you’ll see it clear as day on the toilet paper.
Here are some of the more common causes of bloody stool:
These are small tears or cuts in the lining of your anus tissue. You could equate them to chapped lips or a paper cut, just to help you visualize the type of cuts we mean. They are brought about by passing large, hard stools that give you a lot of pain.
This is when pouches form in the colon wall; when they are inflamed or infected, they can result in pain. The jury’s still out on what causes this condition, but a low-fiber diet is suspected to contribute. Your colon has to work really hard to push out the stool if you don’t add fiber to your diet to bulk it up. That added pressure makes little pouches sprout up along your colon.
This is when the colon gets inflamed, with causes stemming from infections to inflammatory bowel disease.
This condition involves the bleeding of fragile, abnormal blood vessels.
These open sores occur in the stomach lining, or duodenum, which is at the upper end of your small intestine. Caused by a bacterial infection, these sores can bleed and become very painful. Patients who are on aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs can also experience ulcers over the long term.
These are benign growths that can grow, bleed, and possibly become cancerous. Colorectal cancer, for example, is the fourth most common type of cancer in this country resulting in bleeding that isn’t detected by the naked eye.
Blood loss can result from varicose veins or tears occurring in the esophagus.
What to Do if You Notice Blood
Your first inclination when you find blood in your stool may be to wait and see if it gets better. While it’s certainly not helpful to panic, you should get any unexplained bleeding looked at by a medical doctor right away. Your doctor can then give you an exam and order all the right tests to get the ball rolling on diagnosis. Then, you can start treatment quicker and start feeling better.
Be prepared to offer details on the bleeding when you visit with your doctor, who may end up referring you to a specialist such as a gastroenterologist. This professional will be best equipped to identify the problem. For example, if your stool is black, thick and tar-like, this could signal an ulcer in the upper tract. If it’s maroon-colored, this could signal an issue with the lower digestive tract, such as diverticulitis or hemorrhoids.
Depending on your medical history and the results of your physical exam, your health care provider may order a variety of tests to find out where the bleeding is originating.
Possible treatments include:
This will determine if the bleeding is coming from the upper or lower digestive tract. A tube removes the contents of the stomach through the nose.
Through insertion of an endoscope down the esophagus, the doctor can better view the stomach and duodenum. This makes it easier to find a source of the bleeding as well as collect small tissue samples.
A scope is inserted through the rectum to view the colon.
The patient swallows a capsule with a camera inside that picks up images of the small intestine.
A procedure utilizes a contrast material called barium to illuminate the digestive tract on X-ray.
An injection of small amounts of radioactive material into the vein that aids a camera in viewing images of blood flow in the digestive tract.
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