What is Gastrointestinal/Rectal Bleeding?
Gastrointestinal or GI bleeding and/or rectal bleeding are not diseases, but are symptoms of several types of GI diseases and problems. Bleeding of this kind may be a sign of a common disorder, such as gastritis or hemorrhoids or can signal a more serious medical problem, such as a bleeding ulcer, an intestinal infection, bleeding from diverticulosis or may be a sign of colon cancer. GI and rectal bleeding can be obvious and show up in your toilet water or be visible on the toilet tissue.
Upper gastrointestinal bleeding can be noticed if you vomit blood tinged material or pass black, foul smelling stools. It may also be discovered or diagnosed using endoscopic procedures to evaluate the cause of anemia (a low blood count). Invisible or “occult bleeding” may be identified during a routine physical examination when blood is found in a stool sample sent for laboratory examination. This is recommended annually beginning at age 40 as part of a colon cancer screening protocol. Any sign of visible gastrointestinal or rectal bleeding should be evaluated immediately regardless of your age. You should consult with your primary care physician who may refer you to a gastroenterologist for further evaluation. The gastroenterologists at the Ambulatory Center for Endoscopy and Colonoscopy, LLC (ACE) diagnose and treat thousands of patients each year who experience GI and/or rectal bleeding.
What are Symptoms of Gastrointestinal-Rectal Bleeding?
Signs and symptoms of bleeding in your GI tract may depend on the source or location of the bleeding. Blood from your upper GI tract (esophagus, stomach or duodenum) may include blood in vomit or vomit that resembles dark, black, coffee grounds. Symptoms of bleeding from your lower GI tract may include black or tar-colored stools, dark blood mixed in stools or stools coated with bright red blood or passage of fresh red blood or clots. If your bleeding is severe, you may experience other symptoms, such as weakness, dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath, cramps, abdominal pain or have a visibly pale complexion. These symptoms require emergent medical care and should be discussed with your primary care physician or gastroenterologist. If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath or feel like passing out, you should call "911" or have someone drive you to the nearest emergency room.
What Causes Gastrointestinal-Rectal Bleeding?
Gastrointestinal or rectal bleeding can be caused by a variety of medical conditions. Causes of upper gastrointestinal bleeding include peptic ulcers, varices or enlarged veins in the esophagus related to chronic liver disease, tears in the lining of your esophagus often caused by retching (dry heaves), severe acid reflux injury to the esophagus, gastritis or inflammation of the lining of your stomach, abnormal blood vessels in the stomach or intestine, and polyps or cancer. Lower gastrointestinal bleeding is commonly caused by hemorrhoids, colitis or inflammation of the colon (Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis), rupture of a diverticuli or “pouch” in the colon, anal tears or fissures, infections, abnormal blood vessels or AVM’s, and polyps or cancer or the colon or rectum. Ulcers or abnormal blood vessels of the small intestine may also lead to GI bleeding and are often more difficult to locate.
Diagnosing the source of GI bleeding usually requires a thorough evaluation and plan. This should include a complete physical examination and confirmation of blood in the stool as well as laboratory testing for blood loss (a blood test). A thorough history is an important component of the evaluation as many common medications (both prescription and over-the-counter) may cause bleeding, as well as a review of your other medical conditions which may have increased your risks to bleed. This will usually lead to your gastroenterologist recommending further testing to properly identify and control the source of bleeding. The gastroenterologists at the Ambulatory Center for Endoscopy and Colonoscopy, LLC (ACE) utilize a variety of endoscopic procedures to evaluate and diagnose our patients’ GI bleeding in an outpatient setting. While some sources of bleeding may stop spontaneously, it is important to identify the cause to be sure that a more serious problem is not left undiagnosed. Minor bleeding now may lead to life threatening bleeding in the future; especially if it is related to a medication you are still taking. A delay in diagnosis and treatment can lead to further medical complications that may affect your current and future health. The use of Upper Endoscopy and/or Colonoscopy often provides a fast and safe method to identify the bleeding site and offers the advantage of immediate endoscopic treatments to stop bleeding and prevent rebleeding. In the event a more serious condition is suspected, biopsies can be taken, which will lead to the proper treatment recommendations for your condition.
What Does Frequent Gastrointestinal/Rectal Bleeding Mean to My Health?
Remember, GI and/or rectal bleeding is a symptom and is not a disease or condition. It can be a sign of a variety of medical conditions affecting your GI tract and overall health. Getting a proper diagnosis and treatment will result in a solution for the condition that is causing your GI bleeding. If you are referred to or choose to be treated at the Ambulatory Center for Endoscopy and Colonoscopy, LLC (ACE), your gastroenterologist will discuss diagnosis and treatment options with you.