Rectal bleeding is common and is associated with a number of gastrointestinal conditions. They can range from mild conditions, such as hemorrhoids, or a marker for more serious conditions, such as colorectal cancer. Often, patients first detect red blood in the stool after having a bowel movement. Red stains often appear on toilet paper, indicating there may be a problem. Read on to learn more about bright red blood in the stool, conditions it is associated with, and how severe rectal bleeding can be.
What Is Rectal Bleeding?
Generally speaking, rectal bleeding is defined as any blood that is excreted from the anus. However, most cases of rectal bleeding are in the colon or rectum. The rectum is at the beginning of the large intestine (colon). Also, most cases of rectal bleeding involve bright red blood in the stool, but occasionally bleeding can manifest as a dark maroon color
If you notice blood in the stool, it warrants a call to your physician. Red blood in the stool and rectal bleeding are associated with many diseases and conditions of the digestive tract, including colon and rectal cancer, diverticular disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), among others.
Is Rectal Bleeding Serious?
In many cases, rectal bleeding is associated with minor and easily treatable conditions, such as hemorrhoids. However, if you notice bright red blood in the stool, you should consult your physician and have a physical exam. Many GI diseases include similar gastrointestinal signs and symptoms, and rectal bleeding is associated with some serious conditions, such as colorectal cancer (colon polyps) or gastrointestinal bleeding. It’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to bright red blood in the stool.
What Causes Rectal Bleeding?
There can be many causes of rectal bleeding. Some of the more common causes of bright red blood in the stool and rectal bleeding are listed below.
Hemorrhoids are the most common cause of rectal bleeding, and they are easily treatable. Hemorrhoids are swollen veins in the rectum or anus. Hemorrhoids in the rectum are internal, while hemorrhoids in the anus are external. Some hemorrhoids are painful, while others are not. They have many causes:
- Lifting heavy objects
- Straining during a bowel movement
- Anal intercourse
Often, hemorrhoids can be treated with over-the-counter medications; otherwise, they are easily treatable with your gastroenterologist.
This is a condition that occurs when small pouches (diverticuli) develop in sections of your intestine that have already been weakened. Over time, these pouches can push through your bowel wall, causing rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, and a change in bowel habits. The first-line treatment for diverticulitis is antibiotics; however, more severe cases may need IV antibiotics or fluids.
Anal fissures can also cause bright red blood in the stool. Anal fissures often occur during constipation. When a stool is difficult to pass and you strain, the pressure causes the skin around the anus to tear. Anal fissures are often mistaken for hemorrhoids, and in most cases, they go away on their own. Your physician may instruct you to participate in preventative treatment, such as stool softeners or a change in diet.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
There are two types of inflammatory bowel disease: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Crohn’s disease manifests with patchy inflammation and can appear throughout the entire digestive tract. Ulcerative colitis refers mainly to ulcers that appear only in the large intestine. Both types of IBD can cause bright red blood in the stool. Treatment for IBD varies due to what type it is and how severe it is. It is possible to have both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Anti-inflammatories such as aminosalicylates may be used, or your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. Symptoms can sometimes be managed with anti-diarrheal medications or NSAIDs. Occasionally, treatment for both types of IBD may require surgery.
Polyps, which are growths that can appear in the colon or rectum, can cause bright red blood in the stool as well. Polyps often begin as being benign but can turn into cancerous cells, which can cause colorectal cancer. In fact, if you suspect you have polyps, you should let your gastroenterologist know immediately. A colonoscopy can be performed to evaluate a patient for colorectal cancer, and a physician can remove polyps during the procedure. If cancerous polyps and colon cancer are detected early, there is a much higher survival rate.
Other conditions that can cause rectal bleeding may include:
- Anal abscesses or fistulas (small glands in the anus that can become infected)
- Ulcers (blood in the stool may be dark red)
- Constipation/hard stools
- Chronic diarrhea
- Proctitis (inflammation of the rectum)
- Radiation therapy
Because there can be so many causes, bright red blood in the stool and rectal bleeding should always be evaluated by a medical professional.
What You Need to Tell Your Gastroenterologist
If you consult your gastroenterologist for bright red blood in the stool or rectal bleeding, there are some things you should make them aware of. Let your GI doctor know if you have rectal bleeding as well as any of the symptoms below:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Unintended weight loss
- Rectal pain or pressure
- Less urination
The color of the blood is also an important thing to let your gastroenterologist know, as differences in blood color can help provide a more definitive diagnosis. For example, if the stool is dark red to black, it can indicate a problem in the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract, such as ulcers or an inflammation of the stomach.
Bright red blood in the stool indicates the blood is “fresh” because of its bright color. This typically indicates a problem in the lower part of the digestive tract. This could be indicative of diverticulitis, IBD, hemorrhoids, and ulcers, among other conditions.
Find a Gastroenterologist Near You
Finding bright red blood in the stool or noticing rectal bleeding warrants a visit to a gastroenterologist so you can be properly diagnosed. We treat all types of gastrointestinal conditions, from rectal bleeding to pancreatitis. We provide comprehensive care and patient support, from the first consultation to post-treatment. If you’re planning your first visit, you may contact us here.