Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
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?
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.
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.