Blood in the Stool (Rectal Bleeding)

  • Medical Author:
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: Bhupinder S. Anand, MBBS, MD, DPHIL (OXON)
    Bhupinder S. Anand, MBBS, MD, DPHIL (OXON)

    Bhupinder S. Anand, MBBS, MD, DPHIL (OXON)

    Dr. Anand received MBBS degree from Medical College Amritsar, University of Punjab. He completed his Internal Medicine residency at the Postgraduate Institute of medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India. He was trained in the field of Gastroenterology and obtained the DPhil degree. Dr. Anand is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology.

the human colon

Rectal Bleeding (Blood in Stool) Symptoms

Blood in the stool or rectal bleeding is a symptom of a disease or condition.

The color of blood in the stool can be:

  • bright red,
  • maroon,
  • yellow,
  • white,
  • green,
  • black and tarry, or
  • not visible to the naked eye (occult).

Causes of blood in stool range from harmless, annoying conditions of the gastrointestinal tract such as hemorrhoids or anal fissures, to serious conditions such as cancer.

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Rectal bleeding (blood in stool) definition and facts

  • Rectal bleeding is the passage of blood through the anus.
  • The bleeding may result in bright red blood in the stool as well as maroon colored or black stool. The bleeding also may be occult (not visible with the human eye).
  • The common causes of rectal bleeding from the colon include
  • Rectal bleeding also may be seen with bleeding that is coming from higher in the instestinal tract, from the stomach, duodenum, or small intestine.
  • Rectal bleeding may not be painful; however, other symptoms that may accompany rectal bleeding are diarrhea, and abdominal cramps due to the blood in the stool.
  • Rectal bleeding is commonly evaluated and treated by gastroenterologists and colorectal or general surgeons. The origin of rectal bleeding is determined by history and physical examination, anoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, radionuclide scans, visceral angiograms, flexible endoscopy or capsule endoscopy of the small intestine, and blood tests.
  • Rectal bleeding is managed first by correcting the low blood volume and anemia if present with blood transfusions and then, determining the site and cause of the bleeding, stopping the bleeding, and preventing future rebleeding.
  • Rectal bleeding can be prevented if the cause of the bleeding can be found and definitively treated, for example, by removing the bleeding polyp or tumor. In addition, it may be appropriate to search for additional abnormalities, for example, polyps or angiodysplasias that have not yet bled but may do so in the future. This may require either gastrointestinal endoscopy or surgery.

What does rectal bleeding (blood in stool) mean?

Rectal bleeding (known medically as hematochezia) refers to the passage of red blood from the anus, often mixed with stool and/or blood clots. It is called rectal bleeding because the rectum lies immediately above the anus, but red blood in the stool may be coming from the rectum, as discussed later, although it also may be coming from other parts of the gastrointestinal tract.) The severity of rectal bleeding (i.e., the quantity of blood that is passed) varies widely. Most episodes of rectal bleeding are mild and stop on their own. Many patients report only observing a few drops of fresh blood that turns the toilet water pink or observing spots of blood on the tissue paper after they wipe. Others may report brief passage of a spoonful or two of blood. Generally, mild rectal bleeding can be evaluated and treated in the doctor's office without hospitalization or the need for urgent diagnosis and treatment.

Bleeding also may be moderate or severe. Patients with moderate bleeding will repeatedly pass larger quantities of bright or dark red (maroon-colored) blood often mixed with stool and/or blood clots. Patients with severe bleeding may pass several bowel movements or a single bowel movement containing a large amount of blood. Moderate or severe rectal bleeding can quickly deplete a patient's body of blood, leading to symptoms of weakness, dizziness, near-fainting or fainting, and signs of low blood pressure or orthostatic hypotension (a drop in blood pressure when going from the sitting or lying position to the standing position). Rarely, the bleeding may be so severe as to cause shock from the loss of blood. Moderate or severe rectal bleeding usually is evaluated and treated in the hospital. Patients with signs and symptoms of a reduced volume of blood often require emergency hospitalization, and transfusion of blood.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/4/2016

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