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Rectal bleeding

Rectal bleeding is when blood passes from the rectum or anus. Bleeding may be noted on the stool or be seen as blood on toilet paper or in the toilet. The blood may be bright red. The term "hematochezia" is used to describe this finding.

Considerations

The color of the blood in the stools may indicate the source of bleeding.

Black or tarry stools may be due to bleeding in the upper part of the GI (gastrointestinal) tract, such as the esophagus, stomach, or the first part of the small intestine. In this case, blood is most often darker because it gets digested on its way through the GI tract. Much less commonly, this type bleeding can be brisk enough to present with bright rectal bleeding.

With rectal bleeding, the blood is red or fresh. This usually means that the source of bleeding is the lower GI tract (colon and rectum).

Eating beets or foods with red food coloring can sometimes make stools appear reddish. In these cases, your doctor can test the stool with a chemical to rule out the presence of blood.

Causes

Rectal bleeding causes include:

  • Anal fissure (a cut or a tear in the anal lining, often caused by straining hard, hard stools or frequent diarrhea). It may cause sudden onset of rectal bleeding. There is most often pain at the anal opening.
  • Hemorrhoids, a common cause of bright red blood. They may or may not be painful.
  • Proctitis (inflammation or swelling of the rectum and anus)
  • Rectal prolapse (rectum falls out through the anus)
  • Trauma or foreign body
  • Colorectal polyps
  • Colon, rectal, or anus cancer
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Infection in the intestines
  • Diverticulosis (abnormal pouches in the colon)

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your health care provider if there is:

  • Fresh blood in your stools
  • A change in the color of your stools
  • Pain in the anal area while sitting or passing stools
  • Incontinence or lack of control over passage of stools
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Drop in blood pressure that causes dizziness or fainting

You should see your provider and have an exam, even if you think that hemorrhoids are causing the blood in your stool.

In children, a small amount of blood in the stool is most often not serious. The most common cause is constipation. You should still tell your child's provider if you notice this problem.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your provider will take a medical history and perform a physical exam. The exam will focus on your abdomen and rectum.

You may be asked the following questions:

  • Have you had any trauma to the abdomen or rectum?
  • Have you had more than one episode of blood in your stool? Is every stool this way?
  • Have you lost any weight recently?
  • Is there blood on the toilet paper only?
  • What color is the stool?
  • When did the problem develop?
  • What other symptoms are present (abdominal pain, vomiting blood, bloating, excessive gas, diarrhea, or fever?

You may need to have one or more imaging tests to look for the cause:

You may have one or more lab tests before, including:

Alternative Names

Rectal bleeding; Blood in the stool; Hematochezia; Lower gastrointestinal bleeding

References

Cheatham JG, Horwhat JD. Lower gastrointestinal tract bleeding. In: McNally PR, ed. GI/Liver Secrets Plus. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 51.

Lamps LW. Anus. In: Goldblum JR, Lamps LW, McKenney JK, Myers JL eds. Rosai and Ackerman's Surgical Pathology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap:18.

MacGilchrist A, Iredale J, Parks R. The gastrointestinal system. In: Douglas G, Nicol F, Robertson C, eds. Macleod's Clinical Examination. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2013:chap 8.

Melton-Meaux GB, Kwaan MR. Hemorrhoids, anal fissure, and anorectal abscess and fistula. In: Kellerman RD, Bope ET, eds. Conn's Current Therapy 2018. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2018:210-213.

Review Date 6/18/2018

Updated by: Subodh K. Lal, MD, gastroenterologist with Gastrointestinal Specialists of Georgia, Smyrna, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.