Blood in the Stool (Rectal Bleeding)

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

Definition of blood in the stool (rectal bleeding)

Rectal bleeding (hematochezia, the medical term) is used to describe the presence of blood with a bowel movement. That blood, whether it fills the commode, or is a streak on the toilet paper when wiping, or just a few drops in the toilet bowl, is not a normal finding and should not be ignored. The source of bleeding can be anywhere in the digestive tract, from the nose and mouth to the rectum and anus. The color can range from bright red to maroon to black or any shade in between, depending on how much the blood has been exposed to the digestive juices.

Anytime there is blood within the gastrointestinal system, it will eventually be excreted in stool (feces, bowel movement, BM). The color of stool will depend upon the amount of blood, the source of the bleeding and how quickly the stool moves through the digestive tract.

Sometimes, the bleeding is too little to be seen by the naked eye but can be tested for by the health care professional.

What symptoms are associated with rectal bleeding?

Depending upon where and why the bleeding has taken place in the digestive tract, the stool consistency and color may vary greatly:

  • The stool color may be bright red, maroon, dark red or black.
  • The bleeding might be hidden, unseen to the naked eye, but able to be detected by a fecal occult blood test.
  • There may be just in the bowel movement or there may be associated feces.
  • If the feces are formed, the blood may be mixed in with the stool or it may just coat the surface.
  • The stool may be well formed or it may loose and diarrhea like. It may be normal in shape in size or it may become pencil thin.
  • There may be associated abdominal pain or the bleeding may be painless.

Depending upon the amount of blood loss, the person may complain of lightheadedness, weakness, shortness of breath, and chest pain. The extent of these symptoms will depend upon the amount and duration of bleeding. If the blood loss occurs slowly over a prolonged period of time, the body may be able to adapt and these symptoms may develop gradually. If the bleeding occurs quickly, the person might become suddenly ill.

Blood in stool is never normal and should not be assumed to be due to a benign cause. Even when the blood is found to be due to hemorrhoids (a common cause of bright red blood in the stool), the amount of bleeding may still be significant and may need a surgical procedure to control it.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/13/2013

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Blood in the Stool - Experience Question: Please describe your experience with blood in the stool.
Blood in the Stool - Cause Question: What was the cause of blood in your stool?
Blood in the Stool - Diagnosis Question: What was the diagnosis of blood in the stool?
Blood in the Stool - Treatment Question: Depending on the cause, what was the treatment for blood in the stool?
Blood in the Stool - Hemorrhoids Question: Please describe your experience with hemorrhoids and blood in your stool.
Blood in the Stool - Anal Fissures Question: Please describe your experience with anal fissures and rectal bleeding.
Blood in the Stool - Other Causes Question: Which one of these were the cause of your case of rectal bleeding, and please describe your experience.
Blood in the Stool - Infection Question: What infection caused your case of rectal bleeding, and how was it treated?
Blood in the Stool - Ulcers or Gastritis Question: Was it ulcers or gastritis that caused your case of rectal bleeding, and how was it treated?
Blood in the Stool - Esophageal Bleeding Question: Please describe your experience with rectal bleeding and esophageal bleeding.
Blood in the Stool - Additional Causes Question: If not mentioned previously, what caused your case of rectal bleeding?
Blood in the Stool - Associated Symptoms Question: What symptoms did you have that occurred with rectal bleeding?

Bleeding Ulcers: Symptoms and Causes

What Are the Symptoms and Causes of Bleeding Ulcers?

Inflammation in the stomach may cause a small crater, or ulcer, to form. If there happens to be a blood vessel under the ulcer, a lot of bleeding can develop and then the symptoms aren't so subtle. The patient may vomit blood, or the blood may pass into the intestine, get digested, and come out as black, tarry stools.

Bleeding ulcers are a big deal. Often having endoscopy is diagnostic and therapeutic. A gastroenterologist can use a fiberoptic camera to view the inside of the stomach and duodenum, searching for a source of bleeding. If a blood vessel is leaking, it's possible to cauterize or burn the blood vessel and take care of the problem right away.