What is blood in the stool?

Blood in the stool can be caused by a variety of health conditions like hemorrhoids, anal fissure. The amount of blood in your stool may increase after drinking caffeine or alcohol, eating certain foods, or applying pressure when you have a bowel movement.
Blood in the stool can be caused by a variety of health conditions like hemorrhoids, anal fissure. The amount of blood in your stool may increase after drinking caffeine or alcohol, eating certain foods, or applying pressure when you have a bowel movement.

You may notice the appearance of blood in your stool when you use the bathroom. The blood may be in or on your bowel movement, show up in the toilet bowl, or appear on your toilet paper. The amount of blood in your stool may increase after drinking caffeine or alcohol, eating certain foods, or applying pressure when you have a bowel movement. 

There are many different reasons why you might end up having blood in your stool. The bloody stool may clear up on its own, or it could be a sign of a more serious health condition.

Signs and symptoms of blood in the stool

Some of the most common signs of blood in the stool include:

  • Changes in your bowel habits
  • The appearance of red or black stools
  • Changes in the consistency of your stools
  • Feelings of pain or tenderness in different areas of your gastrointestinal tract
  • Vomit with bright red blood
  • Vomit that looks like coffee grounds

More severe cases of rectal bleeding can cause people to go into shock. You should call 911 immediately if you find yourself experiencing the following signs:

It’s also possible for you to have blood in your stool without actually seeing blood. That form of blood in bowel movements is called occult bleeding. You may not know about the presence of blood in that area until you have tests performed that show that you have a low red blood cell count. This can be a sign of colon cancer.

Causes of blood in the stool

Various medical conditions can cause blood in your stool. Their effects can range from mild to severe, and some can require immediate medical treatment. Some of the most common causes of blood in the stool include:

Hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids form when veins in the rectum or around the anus become swollen. They can be caused by persistent bouts of constipation, excess strain when having a bowel movement, pregnancy, anal intercourse, or carrying extra weight. 

Anal fissure

An anal fissure is a tear or split that occurs in the skin around your anus. They are typically caused by the strain of passing a hard stool. The pressure applied to the skin of your anus by the bowel movement causes damage in that area. That could be why you see blood when you wipe yourself with toilet paper. Anal fissures usually heal on their own.

Anal fistula or abscess

There are small glands inside your anus whose function is to help you pass bowel movements. Those glands can become infected, leading to the formation of a fistula or an abscess. An abscess is caused when the glands in your anus get blocked by pus. Fistulas are tunnels that form to connect that abscess to the skin of your anus. 

The presence of an abscess or fistula could mean that you have an underlying condition such as inflammatory bowel disease

Diverticulitis

Some people develop small bulging pouches in the lining of their digestive systems, leading to a condition called diverticulitis. These pouches are found most often in the colon and are especially common among people over 40. 

The presence of diverticula rarely causes problems. However, it is possible for the inflamed or infected diverticula to bleed, causing you to have blood in your stool.  

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When to see the doctor for blood in the stool

It’s a good idea to contact a doctor anytime you find blood in your stool. While you may end up having a mild, treatable condition, you could also have another health problem that requires more serious treatment. Your situation may be more urgent if you’re experiencing heavy or consistent bleeding. 

Diagnosing blood in the stool

Many doctors start an office consultation for blood in the stool by asking questions about the issue. These questions include:

  • When did the blood first appear in your stool?
  • What you eat before seeing blood in your stool?
  • Are you experiencing unusual stress lately?
  • Have you had a traumatic injury to your abdomen or rectum?
  • Do you have hemorrhoids?
  • Have you lost weight since the bleeding began?
  • Do you experience pain along with the rectal bleeding?
  • Is there a history of colorectal cancer in your family?

Doctors typically ask these kinds of questions to narrow down the potential source of the blood in your stool. They may also want to perform a physical exam, request a fecal occult blood test, or ask that you undergo other diagnostic procedures like a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy

Treatments for blood in the stool

Treatment plans for dealing with blood in the stool focus first on ending the bleeding. Bleeding is often stopped in the short term by using an endoscopic procedure to heat up, introduce medication to, or remove hemorrhoids or other tissue from the specific area of the bleed. 

In the long term, treatment depends on your condition. You may need to change your diet, take medicine, increase water intake, apply an ointment, or undergo corrective surgery. Dealing with a health problem like colon cancer may involve tumor removal, chemotherapy, or other cancer treatments. 

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Medically Reviewed on 12/21/2020
References
American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons: "Abscess and Fistula Expanded Information."

Beaumont Health: "Blood In Your Stool."

Canadian Urological Association Journal: "Urinary retention presenting as complete bowel obstruction."} {PeaceHealth: "Rectal Problems."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Colon Cancer Symptoms."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Gastrointestinal Bleeding or Blood in the Stool."

Kaiser Permanente: "Medical History and Physical Exam for Irritable Bowel Syndrome."

PeaceHealth: "Rectal Problems."

University of California San Francisco Health: "Rectal bleeding."

University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics: "Stools with blood."

University of Minnesota Health Fairview: "GASTROINTESTINAL COMPLICATIONS."