What Causes Blood in Stool?

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blood in stool causesWhat causes blood in the stool? It’s natural, if not exactly a dinner-appropriate question to ask after inspecting the results of a recent movement.

Seeing blood, whether bright red or black, in your stool or on the toilet paper after wiping can be alarming but is not always something to be worried about.

On the other hand, there are some definite causes of blood in the stool that warrant a doctor’s attention. Understanding the difference between a harmless and potentially harmful bloody movement requires a bit of explanation about what the blood in stool causes are.

What Causes Blood in Stool?

Generically speaking, almost anything that causes a bleed at some point along the gastrointestinal tract can result in blood in stool. Blood does not get re-absorbed by the body once it enters the intestinal tract so there is really only one way for it to go.

1. Diverticula
A diverticula is a small pouch that can form in the colon wall. While normally harmless, they can sometimes get infected or inflamed, resulting in bleeding.

2. Constipation
Overly stiff, hard-to-pass stools can sometimes bleed purely from the strain of using the toilet. Constipation also increases the likelihood of anal fissures, hemorrhoids, and some forms of bowel obstruction.

3. Anal Fissure
Imagine something like a paper cut or cracks in chapped lips. Now imagine that in the lining of the anus and you have an idea on what an anal fissure looks like. These are painful but harmless injuries that can be brought on by regular straining when trying to pass a stool.

4. Food Poisoning
Bloody diarrhea is sometimes the result of a foodborne illness like E. coli or the norovirus.

5. Colitis
Inflammation of the colon. Various illnesses and conditions can cause colitis, but the most common is some variant of inflammatory bowel disease.

6. Angiodysplasia
A condition where blood vessels can be abnormally fragile and prone to bleeding. If the vessels are located along the GI tract, it can result in blood in the stool.

7. Obstruction
If something is forming an obstruction in the bowel or colon, the irritation and inflammation can sometimes cause bleeding.

8. Peptic Ulcers
A peptic ulcer is a form of open sore in the lining of the stomach or small intestine and is usually the result of an H. pylori infection or side effect from long-term use of certain drugs. As one would imagine, an open wound in the digestive tract can bleed and that blood can get into your stool.

9. Hemorrhoids
An internal hemorrhoid is a swollen blood vessel that can end up protruding, resulting in painful or bleeding stools.

10. Polyps or Cancer
Polyps are a type of benign growth that can sometimes bleed. Polyps can also become cancerous and the resulting colon cancer will still bleed, however the amount of blood involved is not always visible without an occult blood test.

11. Various Esophageal Issues
Varicose veins, tears in the lining of the esophagus, or other forms of injury can cause bleeding that trickles all the way down to become blood in the stool.

What Causes Bright Red Blood in Stool?

The color of the blood can sometimes tell you a bit about the cause as well. Bright red blood in stool means the bleeding originated lower in the intestinal tract, past the intestines. Hemorrhoids, constipation, anal fissures, angiodysplasia, and bowel disorders can cause bright red blood.

Dark red or black blood means the bleed happens further up and is generally considered more problematic. Blood from the upper GI tract can sometimes get “baked in” to the stool as it goes through the intestines, which gives the stool a black, tar-like appearance.

Alternatively, the blood may be present in such small quantities that it can’t be seen without a lab test.

What Diseases Are Associated With Blood In the Stool?

  • C. difficile
  • Shigella
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Colitis
  • H. pylori
  • Diverticulitis

What Causes Blood in Stool After Drinking Alcohol?

Alcohol itself does not cause blood in the stool but it can provoke certain other factors. Peptic ulcers, hemorrhoids, and certain forms of irritable bowel disease can be aggravated by alcohol consumption.

What Causes Blood in Stool During Pregnancy?

Pregnancy causes a number of changes in a woman’s body and one of them, unfortunately, may be hemorrhoids. The pressure the fetus exerts on the surrounding organs can strain blood vessels or result in constipation, both of which are known triggers for hemorrhoids to emerge.

What Causes Blood in Stool in a Child?

Children are subject to the same possible causes of blood in the stool as anyone else, but they are more prone to developing constipation. Specifically, constipation in children tends to spike when they begin solid foods, during toilet training, and when starting school. If you see blood in your child’s stool, it is still best to get them checked out. Even if it is constipation, leaving it untreated makes the child more prone to hemorrhoids and anal fissures.

What Causes Blood In Stool And Abdominal Pain?

Possible cause of blood in stool and abdominal pain are:

  • Crohn’s disease: This inflammatory bowel disease can cause inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, result in ulcers and lead to blood in stool and abdominal pain.
  • Diverticulitis: Bulging sacs that appear along the lining of the large intestine can get inflamed; when this occurs it could result in blood in the stool and abdominal pain.
  • Ulcerative colitis: This inflammatory bowel disease affects the gastrointestinal tract and can result in ulcers. Ulcers can lead to blood in stool and abdominal pain.

What Symptoms Are Associated with Blood in Stool?

As you can see, there are a lot of different possible causes behind blood appearing in your stool. One way to narrow down a cause is to pay attention to any other symptoms that may be appearing. For instance, hemorrhoids and anal fissures produce bright red blood and painful stool passage but no other symptoms. A peptic ulcer will produce things like stomach cramps that worsen in response to eating. Food poisoning can also be accompanied by diarrhea, abdominal pain, or vomiting and nausea. The following are all symptoms that may appear alongside blood in the stool and should be looked for and reported to your doctor alongside the color:

  • Abdominal pain. Make a note of location, frequency, intensity, and type of sensation (stabbing, throbbing, etc.)
  • Vomiting and/or nausea
  • Weakness
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Tenderness in the abdomen
  • Pain during bowel movements. Again, make a note of intensity and type
  • A “quivering” or spasm in the abdomen
  • Whether any activities or foods seem to aggravate symptoms

Blood in the stool should never be ignored even if it does not seem to appear with other symptoms. Until you receive a diagnosis from your doctor it is always best to err on the side of caution and schedule an appointment.

What Causes Blood in Urine? What Causes Blood in Stool and Urine?

Blood in the urine tends to stem from issues with the kidney or bladder and rarely share causes with blood in the stool. Should you see blood in your urine and stool at the same time, however, it is highly advised that you seek medical attention promptly.

Why Blood in Stool Should Never Be Ignored

You should always consult your doctor about rectal bleeding even if you think you know the cause. Although, for instance, bright red bleeding with no other symptoms is not always a medical emergency, the fact remains that blood is getting in somewhere it really isn’t supposed to and doctors know what to look for and the right questions to ask. It’s also important to remember that the causes of blood in the stool aren’t exclusive to one another. Having hemorrhoids doesn’t mean you can’t also develop a peptic ulcer or some other cause.

How Blood in Stool Is Diagnosed

Usually, a visual inspection is all that is required to confirm the presence of blood in the stool. However, sometimes the amount is too small to be seen with the naked eye and an occult blood test is performed to confirm its presence. Once blood is confirmed, the next step is to find the source of the bleed. There are numerous tests that can be employed to investigate your GI tract but the more common ones are endoscopy, colonoscopy, barium X-ray, or angiography:

  • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy: Conveniently shortened to EGD, this is a procedure where an endoscope is inserted into the mouth, down the esophagus, and through to the stomach and a bit of the small intestine. The endoscope has a camera that lets the doctor check for any sources of bleeding and, if necessary, take a biopsy sample.
  • Colonoscopy: Like an EGD except it goes up the other end and is used to view the colon and bowel.
  • Barium X-ray: Barium is a contrast material that is either swallowed or delivered via enema. The barium makes the digestive track light up on an X-ray so doctors can give it an assessment.
  • Angiography: A dye is injected into the veins that makes blood vessels appear on X-ray or CT scan. It’s used to check the blood vessels for any weaknesses or leaks that could be responsible for blood in the stool.

Can Blood in Stool Be Treated Naturally?

1. Medication
Antibiotics or anti-inflammatories can be used if the cause is identified as a form of colitis, infection, or peptic ulcer brought on by H. pylori. Medication may also be used to resolve cases of food poisoning but most go away on their own within a few days.

2. Surgery
If you have bowel cancer, removing the tumor is a good step to take when stopping the blood in stool. Although not always necessary, surgery may also be needed to treat cases of polyps or hemorrhoids, remove a bowel obstruction, or to repair a particularly nasty ulcer or esophageal tear.

3. Sitz Bath
Hemorrhoids and anal fissures bleed when provoked and a sitz bath can be used to try and soothe the site and make them less prone to bleeding. A sitz bath is a type of tub that you fill with water and mix in Epsom salts before using to bathe the anal region.

4. Diet Adjustment
Avoiding fried or otherwise dense foods and large meals can help minimize the effects of a peptic ulcer while it heals. When dealing with constipation, fiber will always be your friend so that means upping your intake of grains, green vegetables, and fruits. Making sure to stay hydrated regularly won’t hurt either.

5. Activity
Staying immobile, especially if you remain seated or lying down in the same position for prolonged periods, has an impact on the motility of your bowels. Improving how much you move, even if its just a change in seating position, can help reduce the likelihood of constipation.

Can Blood In Stool Be Prevented?

In a sense, there is no way to truly prevent rectal bleeding. Not all of the causes are things that can easily be controlled, so even the most bowel and rectal-friendly lifestyle could still develop a bleed or two.

Have a Better Lifestyle to Have Better Bowels

However, having a better lifestyle can let you have better bowels as well. Stay on top of your fiber, fruits, and vegetables, stay hydrated, and keep active, and your movements should be smoother and more red-free.

Sources for Today’s Article:
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“Blood in Stool (Hematochezia): Causes and Diagnosis,” Web MD web site; http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/blood-in-stool, last accessed March 16, 2016.
“Blood in Stool (Hematochezia): Causes and Diagnosis,” Web MD web site; http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/blood-in-stool?page=2, last accessed March 16, 2016.
“Blood in Stool (Hematochezia): Causes and Diagnosis,” Web MD web site; http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/blood-in-stool?page=3#3, last accessed March 16, 2016.
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