Finding blood in your stool can be a scary experience, whichever way you discover it. Even though most people automatically assume that blood in the stool is an indicator for a serious problem, it isn't always the case. This article will tell you all you need to know about bloody stools and what you should do if you find blood in yours.
In its simplest, finding blood in your stool could mean that there is bleeding in your digestive tract. A lot of times, the blood is so little that it can only be detected through a fecal occult test (a test that checks your stool for any traces of blood). In other cases, patients notice the blood themselves on the toilet paper or in the toilet after a bowel movement.
Causes of Blood in Stool
- Diverticular Disease. While not common, the diverticula which are small pouches found on your colon's wall, can become infected and may sometimes bleed.
- Anal Fissure. Similar to how your lips bleed if they're chapped or dry, or how your finger bleeds from a slight paper cut, any small cut/tear in the anus tissue can cause bleeding. Anal fissure is usually caused by prolonged constipation, when hard and large stool pass through and it can be extremely painful.
- Colitis. Colitis is the inflammation of the colon, which is usually a result of inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn's or ulcerative colitis.
- Angiodysplasia. Angiodysplasia occurs when delicate and unusual blood vessels cause bleeding.
- Peptic Ulcers. Peptic ulcers usually occur in your stomach or the top part of your small intestine, called the duodenum. They are open sores caused by a bacterial infection or long term use of drugs like aspirin, naproxen and ibuprofen.
- Esophageal Problems. Any small tears or cuts in your esophagus or varicose veins can cause extreme blood loss.
- Polyps or Cancer. Polyps can become serious problems. What start out as benign growths can grow bigger, start bleeding internally and become cancerous. Since the bleeding is internal, it's much harder to detect. In the Unites States, colorectal cancer is the third most common type. If you have any doubts that you may be suffering, see your doctor immediately.
- Others Causes. Other possible causes include hemorrhoids (possibly the most common of them all), an intestinal infection and bowl ischemia, which occurs when your blood doesn't reach sections of your intestine.
Complications of Blood in Stool
Having blood in your stool may not be the only symptom you're suffering from. Additional symptoms include vomiting, fatigue, shortness of breath, pains in your abdomen, diarrhea, dizziness and even weight loss―depending on the extent of the bleeding and duration you've been suffering from it.
Diagnosis of Blood in Stool
- Nasogastric Lavage. This test, performed by a professional, will tell you whether the bleeding is starting from the upper or lower digestive tract. The procedure, which is one of the most commonly performed when diagnosing blood in stool, involves removing all contents of your stomach and inserting a small tube. If there is no evidence of bleeding in your stomach it could mean that the blood has stopped or could be occurring in your lower digestive tract.
- EGD. Similar to the nasogastric lavage, an EGD also involves inserting a tube into your body but this time through your mouth and esophagus to your stomach/duodenum (the upper part of your intestines). A small camera is attached to the end of the tube for the doctor to find the source that is causing the bleeding.
- Colonoscopy. Similar to EGD, in colonoscopy however, the tube and camera are inserted through a patient's rectum to examine the colon.
- Enteroscopy. Similar to both EGD and colonoscopy, enteroscapy is performed to view the small intestine.
- X-Ray. When performing an x-ray to diagnose blood in stool, a doctor will use something called barium (either by letting the patient swallow it or inserting it directly into the rectum), that shows the digestive tract on the x-ray. Without the barium, doctors wouldn't be able to do this procedure.
- Radionuclide Scanning. In this method, your doctor will inject a little bit of radioactive substance into a vein and then use a camera to follow its path as it moves into your digestive tract to examine and find the source of bleeding.
- Angiography. This method also involves injecting a substance into a vein, this time a special dye. This dye allows doctors to view your blood vessels on an x-ray or CT scan to detect where the bleeding is occurring and how they can stop it.
- Laparotomy. This method is usually performed as a last resort, where your doctor will have to surgically open your abdomen to determine where the bleeding is starting from.
Treatments for Blood in Stool
Depending on your specific case and cause of bleeding, your doctor will choose one of the following methods to stop the bleeding. Most commonly, endoscopy is performed by injecting substances into the source of bleeding, the open blood vessel is clogged by using a band or clip or the source of bleeding is treated with laser. In the event endoscopy doesn't work, angiography may be performed where your doctor instead injects medicine to help the area heal faster and control any excessive bleeding immediately.
After addressing the bleeding, your doctor will next determine what can be done to ensure that the bleeding does not occur again. Treatment will vary largely depending on your case, but include medications from antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs to surgery in more complex cases, or cases where other methods did not work.
There are some simple things you can do to decrease your chances of suffering from blood in your stool such as maintaining a high-fiber diet to avoid constipation, which can also cause hemorrhoids in the long-term as well as anal fissures. However, treatment is not always that simple which is why it's important that you see your doctor as soon as you see blood in your stool. While it can be easily treatable and nothing to worry about, it's better to be safe than sorry.