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Bleeding in the Digestive Tract

What Causes Bleeding in the Digestive Tract?
How Is Bleeding in the Digestive Tract Recognized?
How Is Bleeding in the Digestive Tract Diagnosed?
How Is Bleeding in the Digestive Tract Treated?

Bleeding in the digestive tract is a symptom of digestive problems rather than a disease itself. Bleeding can occur as the result of a number of different conditions, many of which are not life threatening. Most causes of bleeding are related to conditions that can be cured or controlled, such as hemorrhoids. The cause of bleeding may not be serious, but locating the source of bleeding is important. The digestive or gastrointestinal (GI) tract includes the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine or colon, rectum, and anus. Bleeding can come from one or more of these areas, that is, from a small area such as an ulcer on the lining of the stomach or from a large surface such as an inflammation of the colon. Bleeding can sometimes occur without the person noticing it. This type of bleeding is called occult or hidden. Fortunately, simple tests can detect occult blood in the stool.

What Causes Bleeding in the Digestive Tract?

What Are the Common Causes of Bleeding in the Digestive Tract?

  • Esophagus Inflammation (esophagitis)
  • Enlarged veins (varices)
  • Mallory-Weiss syndrome
  • Stomach Ulcers Inflammation (gastritis)
  • Small Intestine Duodenal ulcer
  • Large Intestine and Rectum Hemorrhoids Inflammation (ulcerative colitis)
  • Colorectal polyps
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Diverticular disease
How Is Bleeding in the Digestive Tract Recognized?
How Do You Recognize Blood in the Stool and Vomit?
  • Bright red blood coating the stool
  • Dark blood mixed with the stool
  • Black or tarry stool
  • Bright red blood in vomit
  • Coffee-grounds appearance of vomit
What Are the Symptoms of Acute Bleeding?
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Crampy abdominal pain
  • Faintness
  • Diarrhea
What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Bleeding?
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lethargy
  • Pallor

How Is Bleeding in the Digestive Tract Diagnosed?

The site of the bleeding must be located. A complete history and physical examination are essential. Symptoms such as changes in bowel habits, stool color (to black or red) and consistency, and the presence of pain or tenderness may tell the doctor which area of the GI tract is affected. Because the intake of iron or foods such as beets can give the stool the same appearance as bleeding from the digestive tract, a doctor must test the stool for blood before offering a diagnosis. A blood count will indicate whether the patient is anemic and also will give an idea of the extent of the bleeding and how chronic it may be.


Endoscopy is a common diagnostic technique that allows direct viewing of the bleeding site. The endoscope is a flexible instrument that can be inserted through the mouth or rectum. The instrument allows the doctor to see into the esophagus, stomach, duodenum (esophago-duodenoscopy), colon (colonoscopy), and rectum (sigmoidoscopy); to collect small samples of tissue (biopsies); to take photographs; and to stop the bleeding.

Other Procedures

Several other methods are available to locate the source of bleeding including barium x-rays, angiography (a technique that uses dye to highlight blood vessels), and others.

How Is Bleeding in the Digestive Tract Treated?

The use of endoscopy has grown and now allows doctors not only to see bleeding sites but to directly apply therapy as well. A variety of endoscopic therapies are useful to the patient for treating GI tract bleeding. Once bleeding is controlled, medicines are often prescribed to prevent recurrence of bleeding. Medical treatment of ulcers to ensure healing and maintenance therapy to prevent ulcer recurrence can also lessen the chance of recurrent bleeding. Removal of polyps with an endoscope can control bleeding from colon polyps. Removal of hemorrhoids by banding or various heat or electrical devices is effective in patients who suffer hemorrhoidal bleeding on a recurrent basis. Endoscopic injection or cautery can be used to treat bleeding sites throughout the lower intestinal tract. Endoscopic techniques do not always control bleeding. Sometimes angiography may be used. However, surgery may be needed to control active, severe, or recurrent bleeding when endoscopy is not successful.