Gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding is usually a symptom of an underlying medical condition. Learn about the most common causes and triggers
Gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding is usually a symptom of an underlying medical condition. Possible causes may include:
- Hemorrhoids (piles)
- Peptic ulcers
- Tears or inflammation in the esophagus
- Diverticulosis (development of small, bulging pouches called diverticula in the digestive tract)
- Diverticulitis (inflammation or infection of the diverticula)
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s disease
- Colonic polyps
- Liver failure
- Cancer of the colon, stomach, or esophagus
What causes upper vs. lower GI bleeding?
Causes of GI bleeding can be divided into two categories: upper or lower, depending on the location in the GI tract.
Common causes of upper GI bleeding include:
- Peptic ulcers
- Gastritis (bleeding in the stomach)
- Esophageal varices (abnormal, enlarged veins in the esophagus) secondary to portal hypertension
- Inflammation of the GI lining from ingested corrosive materials (suicide attempt)
- Mallory-Weiss tears (tears in the lining of the esophagus) due to a severe vomiting episode
Common causes of lower GI bleeding include:
- GI cancer
- Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis)
- Infectious diarrhea
- Angiodysplasia (swollen, fragile blood vessels in the colon)
- Colon polyps (small clumps of cells that form on the lining of the colon leading to GI bleeding)
- Anal fissures (small tears in the lining of the anus)
- Proctitis (inflammation of the lining of the rectum)
- Tumors (Benign or cancerous tumors of the esophagus, stomach, colon or rectum can weaken the lining of the digestive tract and cause bleeding.)
What causes minor vs. severe GI bleeding?
Causes of minor GI bleeding include:
- Anal fissures or tears
Causes of more severe GI bleeding include:
- Cancer (anywhere along the GI tract)
- Inflammation in the GI tract such as esophagitis, gastritis or colitis
- Variceal bleeding, typically caused by liver damage
- Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis)
- Meckel’s diverticulum (a bulge in the lower part of the small intestine)
- Mallory-Weiss tears
What other factors can trigger GI bleeding?
Other factors that can trigger conditions causing a gastrointestinal (GI) bleed include:
- Use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and other medicines that cause gastritis
- Infections such as travelers’ diarrhea, amebiasis, or tuberculosis
- Severe injuries to the GI tract or chest or abdominal trauma
- Constipation and straining during bowel movements
- Alcohol-induced liver failure or gastritis
- Liver cirrhosis
- Forceful coughing or laughing
- Lifting or straining
- Cigarette smoking
- Helicobacter pylori infection
- Chronic vomiting
- GI surgery
Why does GI bleeding occur?
- In upper GI bleeding, stomach acid or bacterial/viral toxin can irritate the esophageal lining to the point of bleeding.
- Severe retching may cause tears in the lining of the upper GI tract causing blood in vomitus.
- Portal hypertension due to liver failure or splenic vein thrombosis may cause bleeding in the esophageal vascular system or rectal blood vessels.
- In lower GI bleeding, straining and passing hard or wide stools can injure the rectal lining and cause bleeding.
- Polyps are finger-like overgrowths of the lining of the intestine that may bleed when the stools rub against them.
- Diverticulosis is a condition where pouches develop in the lining of the intestine and bleed due to trauma.
- Any type of cancerous mass anywhere in the GI system may rupture, causing bleeding.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Medically Reviewed on 8/18/2021
Top What Causes GI Bleeding Related Articles
Anal FissureAn anal fissure is a small tear or cut in the skin lining of the anus. Pain and/or rectal bleeding during bowel movements are common symptoms of anal fissures. Treatment includes increasing liquid intake, using stool softeners, prescription medications, and surgery.
Blood Disorders QuizExactly what is sickle cell anemia? Learn about sickle cell and other diseases by testing your IQ with the Blood and Bleeding Disorders Quiz.
DiarrheaDiarrhea is a change in the frequency and looseness of bowel movements. Symptoms associated with diarrhea are cramping, abdominal pain, and the sensation of rectal urgency. Causes of diarrhea include viral, bacterial, or parasite infection, gastroenteritis, food poisoning, and drugs. Absorbents and anti-motility medications are used to treat diarrhea.
Diverticulitis SlideshowDiverticulitis (diverticulosis) is a condition in which the diverticulum or diverticula rupture in the colon, causing infection. Medical treatments such as antibiotics and surgery can treat diverticulitis (diverticulosis).
Diverticulitis (Diverticulosis)Most people with diverticulosis have few if any symptoms at all. When people do experience signs and symptoms of diverticulosis (diverticular disease) they may include abdominal pain, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, constipation, and bloating. Diverticulitis is a condition in which diverticula in the colon rupture. The rupture results in infection in the tissues that surround the colon. Treatment methods for diverticulitis include prescription medications, and in some cases, diverticulitis surgery.
Esophagus PictureThe esophagus is a muscular tube connecting the throat (pharynx) with the stomach. See a picture of the Esophagus and learn more about the health topic.
What Is Gastritis? Causes, Symptoms and TreatmentGastritis (acute and chronic) is an inflammation of the lining of the stomach Some people have no gastritis symptoms, but when they do occur they may include bloating, belching, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting. H. pylori infection and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the two main causes of gastritis. Alcohol, caffeine, and high-fat foods also can cause gastritis. Fried, fatty, and spicy foods, and alcohol aggravate gastritis symptoms. Other stomach lining irritants that aggravate symptoms include cigarette smoking, acidic juices, caffeine, tomato products, peppers, and chili powder. Foods that sooth gastritis symptoms, and that help reduce and stop H. pylori infection growth in the stomach include apples, onions, garlic, teas, green leafy vegetables, coconut water, and wheat bran. Gastritis is diagnosed with endoscopy, blood tests, or stool tests. Some people get relief from gastritis symptoms with prescription and non-prescription antacids, histamine blockers like famotidine (Pepcid AC) or ranitidine (Zantac 75), or proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) like omeprazole (Prilosec) and esomeprazole (Nexium). These drugs will not cure gastritis. Complications of gastritis include gastric cancers, MALT lymphoma, renal problems, and death.
Hemorrhoids (Internal and External)Hemorrhoids (piles) are swollen veins in the rectum and anus. Causes include pregnancy, obesity, diarrhea, low-fiber diet, and prolonged sitting on the toilet. Treatment varies depending upon the severity of the hemorrhoids. Some treatment options include over-the-counter creams and suppositories, stool softeners, warm sitz baths, and hemorrhoidectomies.
How to Get Rid of Hemorrhoids: Types, Causes, and TreatmentsLearn how to get rid of hemorrhoids, the difference between internal hemorrhoids and external hemorrhoids, what causes hemorrhoids, how long hemorrhoids last, and hemorrhoids treatment.
Hemorrhoids QuizDoes everyone have hemorrhoids? Test your knowledge of this and many other facts about Hemorrhoids.
How Do You Treat a Bleeding Hemorrhoid?Learn what medical treatments can ease your bleeding hemorrhoid symptoms and help you manage this condition.
Intestinal Gas and Gas PainIntestinal gas and painful bloating are common. Learn about what causes gas pain and how eliminating certain foods from your diet can help relieve symptoms.
Peptic Ulcer (Stomach Ulcer)Peptic or stomach ulcers are ulcers in the lining of the stomach, duodenum, or esophagus. Learn about symptoms, causes, diet, and treatment.
Ulcerative ColitisUlcerative colitis is a chronic inflammation of the colon. Symptoms and signs include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and rectal bleeding. Ulcerative colitis is closely related to Crohn's disease, and together they are referred to as inflammatory bowel disease. Treatment depends upon the type of ulcerative colitis diagnosed.
Ulcerative Colitis QuizWhat is ulcerative colitis and what risks are associated with suffering over the long term? Take this Ulcerative Colitis Quiz to learn causes, symptoms, and treatments for this painful digestive disorder.
Ulcerative ColitisUlcerative Colitis is a form of inflammatory bowel disease and is slightly different than Crohn's disease. Learn the causes, symptoms, diet, and treatment options associated with ulcerative colitis.
Ulcerative Colitis SurgeryUlcerative colitis surgery is performed on approximately 25% to 40% of people with the disease. There are various types of ulcerative colitis. Complications of the surgery include pouch failure, intestinal blockage from adhesions, inflammation of the pouch, and more watery and frequent bowel movements.