What is rectal bleeding?

Bloody stools should be addressed, but there are many reasons for rectal bleeding that don't warrant an emergency visit to the doctor.
Bloody stools should be addressed, but there are many reasons for rectal bleeding that don’t warrant an emergency visit to the doctor.

Although it’s alarming to find blood in the toilet bowl or on your toilet paper, you probably don’t need to worry. Bloody stools should be addressed, but there are many reasons for rectal bleeding that don’t warrant an emergency visit to the doctor.

Rectal bleeding is a blanket term that healthcare providers use to talk about any blood that leaves your body from your rectum. This doesn’t mean that your rectum is the source of your bleeding; the blood could be coming from anywhere in your gut. Another term for this condition is gastrointestinal tract bleeding.

Classifying bloody stools

In order to stop blood in your stool, your healthcare provider will need to establish how bad the bleeding is, where it’s coming from, and if you have any accompanying symptoms.

How bad is the bleeding?

The blood could be barely trickling out of your rectum, or you could have a severe, life-threatening flow of blood, also known as a hemorrhage. Hemorrhages are far less common than mild bleeding. This category of slow gastrointestinal tract bleeding doesn’t pose an immediate risk, but a severe hemorrhage does.

Where is the bleeding coming from?

Bloody stools can come as a result of bleeding in any part of the gastrointestinal tract:

  • Anus or rectum. The blood will be fresh and a bright red color. You might have bloody stools, pass blood after a stool, or have stools covered in streaks of blood. This kind of bleeding could come from an anal tear/fissure or hemorrhoids.
  • Colon. The blood will be darker and mixed in with your stool. This kind of bleeding could come from colitis, diverticular disease, or a bowel tumor.
  • Stomach or small intestine. The blood will be dark and completely mixed in with your stool because it has to travel along most of the gut before it exits your body. Your stool might even have a plum or black color. This kind of bleeding could come from a stomach ulcer or a duodenal ulcer.

What other symptoms do you have?

Common symptoms that come along with bloody stools include:

Some common causes of bloody stool include:

Visiting a doctor for bloody stools

If you have rectal bleeding, you should make plans to see a healthcare provider. If you have black or extremely dark red stools, feel dizzy, collapse, or generally feel worse than normal, you should take immediate action and visit an emergency room or call an ambulance. These are signs of heavy, serious bleeding.

When you see a healthcare provider for less serious gastrointestinal bleeding, they will likely perform tests to find out what is causing the issue and to establish the right treatment. You won’t know how to stop the blood in your stool until your healthcare provider gives you an accurate diagnosis.

Blood in stool treatment

Hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids are anal blood vessels that have become inflamed. If hemorrhoids are the cause of your rectal bleeding, you can treat them with:

  • Creams and suppositories that have hydrocortisone
  • Frequent warm baths
  • A diet high in fiber
  • Stool softeners

Diverticulitis

Diverticula are tiny pockets on the walls of the colon that develop around a weakness in its muscular layers. These diverticula can bleed and become infected. If diverticulitis is the cause of the blood in your stools, you can treat it with antibiotics, or with surgery if the issue is severe.

Crohn’s disease

A type of inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease can affect any part of your gastrointestinal tract. If you have a severe case, you’ll find blood in your stool. There’s no cure for Crohn’s disease, but it can be managed by medication and surgery, depending on your symptoms.

Ulcerative colitis

When the tissues lining your colon are inflamed and develop ulcers or open sores, you have ulcerative colitis. You could have bloody stools along with a number of other symptoms. If you have ulcerative colitis, you can utilize antibiotics or surgery, depending on the cause of your condition.

Polyps

Growths that show up on your colon are called colonic polyps. They aren’t always problematic, but sometimes they do cause symptoms that include bloody stools or blood on your toilet paper after you wipe. Your doctor will likely perform a colonoscopy to remove the polyps.

Consult a healthcare provider

Due to the variety of conditions you could have if you constantly have bloody stools, you should get in touch with your healthcare provider. They will help you determine a cause and a course of treatment.

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Medically Reviewed on 1/11/2022
References
Canadian Digestive Health Foundation: "Why is there blood in my stool? Rectal Bleeding."

Patient: "Rectal Bleeding."