Noticing blood in your stool can be very alarming. Some may notice it after having a bowel movement and wiping with toilet paper, while others see streaks of blood on the stool or toilet seat. Either way, having a bloody stool is not normal.
Passing blood through your anus is often a pointer to some form of bleeding in the digestive tract, and it may be from minor conditions to more sinister ones. The bleeding may be mild or severe enough to be life-threatening.
In some situations, blood in stool may be so minimal that it may not be visible to the unaided eyes; this is called occult bleeding. Occult bleeding is typically an incidental finding from examining the stool for other purposes such as finding the cause of a gastrointestinal infection.
What does bloody stool look like?
Depending on the portion of the digestive tract that is bleeding, the blood in stool may appear anything from red to black in colour.
- Bright red blood indicates bleeding somewhere in the lower gastrointestinal tract, such as the left colon, rectum and anus; the blood will usually coat the stool. This type of bleeding is medically called hematochezia.
- Dark red or wine-colored blood may indicate bleeding in the small intestine or early portion of the colon. The blood is usually mixed with the stool.
- Black, tarry stools usually indicate bleeding from the oesophagus, stomach or the upper part of the small intestine. This type of bleeding is called melena and it may be associated with vomiting blood that looks like coffee grounds.
Why is there blood in my stool?
Some causes of blood in stool include:
- Hemorrhoids or piles are among the most common causes of blood in stool.
- Anal fissures which are small tears in the rectum/anus often leads to bloody stool. Constipation can lead to anal tears.
- Peptic ulcers may bleed and cause blood in stool.
- Gastroenteritis. Some GIT infections e.g. salmonellosis can cause bloody stool.
- Some parasitic infections such as hookworm infestation.
- Polyps in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT). These are small projections into the lumen/hollow of the tract. They often bleed.
- Diverticulosis. These are outpouchings in the GIT which may get infected and bleed.
- Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).
- Severe constipation may cause injury to the colon lining, leading to bleeding that passes out through the anus, with stool.
- In some rare cases, sexually transmitted infections can cause blood in stool, especially when unprotected anal sex is frequently engaged in.
- Cancers of the GIT can cause bloody stool.
- Internal bleeding from major trauma to the abdomen often causes blood in stool.
When should I be worried about blood in my stool?
In many cases, blood in stool may not be a cause for alarm. However, it is advisable to contact your doctor if you notice:
- bleeding that lasts longer than 2 or 3 weeks
- unexplained weight loss, fatigue, or weakness
- abdominal cramps and/swelling
- accompanying fever
- accompanying nausea or vomiting
- accompanying long-term changes in bowel habits
- associated uncontrolled leakage from the anus
Seek immediate medical attention when you notice bloody stool with the following symptoms:
- cold, clammy skin
- shallow and rapid breathing
- severe abdominal cramping
- severe anal pain
- severe nausea
- vomiting or coughing up blood
- bleeding from the ear, nose or eyes
- fainting spells
These symptoms usually indicate a severe loss of blood which can lead to shock and death if immediate medical care is not gotten.
A word from Healthfacts
It is normal to panic when you notice blood in your stool. However, not all causes of bloody stool are life threatening. Pay attention to your stool and bowel habits so that you can notice any abnormality on time.
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