Gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding is when bleeding occurs in any part of the gastrointestinal tract. GI bleeding itself is not a disease, but a symptom of any number of disorders. The blood often appears in stool or vomit, but isn’t always noticeable. The level of bleeding can range from mild to life-threatening.
The causes of gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding are divided into upper or lower, depending on their location in the GI tract:
- Upper GI bleeding: includes the esophagus, stomach, and first part of the small intestine.
- Lower GI bleeding: includes most of the small intestine, large intestine or bowels, rectum and anus.
Noticeable signs of GI bleeding include:
- Dark, tarry stools
- Larger amounts of blood passed from the rectum
- Small amounts of blood in the toilet bowl, on toilet paper, or in streaks on stool (feces)
- Vomiting blood
- May experience abdominal pain
GI bleeding may be due to conditions that are not serious, including:
- Anal fissure
GI bleeding may also be a sign of more serious diseases and conditions. These may include cancers of the GI tract such as:
- Cancer of the colon
- Cancer of the small intestine
- Cancer of the stomach
- Intestinal polyps (a pre-cancerous condition)
Other causes of GI bleeding may include:
- Abnormal blood vessels in the lining of the intestines (also called angiodysplasia)
- Bleeding diverticulum, or diverticulosis
- Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- Esophageal varices
- Gastric (stomach) ulcer
- Intussusception (bowel telescoped on itself)
- Mallory-Weiss tear
- Meckel’s diverticulum
- Radiation injury to the bowel
GI bleeding can be diagnosed by a digital rectal exam, an endoscopy or colonoscopy, and lab tests. The prognosis for a patient with GI bleeding depends upon the cause and location of the bleeding, amount of bleeding, and any underlying medical conditions that may affect the patient’s recovery. If you experience any symptoms or see blood in your stool, make an appointment with us right away.