It is the symptom of a problem rather than a disease itself.
It usually occurs due to conditions that can be cured or controlled, such as hemorrhoids .
The cause of the bleeding may not be serious, but it is important for a doctor to find the source of this symptom.
The digestive or gastrointestinal (GI) tract is divided into two parts: upper digestive tract and lower digestive tract.
The upper GI includes the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. While the lower GI is made up of the colon, rectum, and anus.
Bleeding can come from one or more of these areas, from a small area such as an ulcer in the lining of the stomach, or from a larger problem such as inflammation of the colon .
The affected person may not be aware if bleeding occurs. Doctors call this type of hidden bleeding.
Fortunately, simple tests can check for hidden blood in your stool.
Causes of bleeding in the digestive tract
The reasons vary, depending on where the bleeding is happening.
As for upper GI, if the bleeding is in the esophagus (the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach), causes may include:
Esophagitis and gastroesophageal reflux: acid from the stomach is pushed back, or “refluxes”, into the esophagus. This can cause irritation and inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis) that can lead to bleeding.
Varicose veins : These are abnormally enlarged veins that are usually located in the lower end of the esophagus or in the upper part of the stomach.
These can break and bleed. Cirrhosis of the liver is the most common cause of esophageal varices.
Mallory-Weiss tear : This is a tear in the lining of the esophagus. It is usually caused by severe vomiting.
It can also occur due to factors that increase pressure in the abdomen, such as coughing, hiccups, or childbirth. On the other hand, if the bleeding is in the stomach it can be caused by:
Gastritis – This is inflammation in the stomach. Alcohol and some pain medications can cause it.
Ulcers: those in the stomach can enlarge and erode through a blood vessel, causing bleeding.
Besides medications, the most common cause of these is infection with a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori.
Also, people who have had burns, shock, head injuries, or cancer and who have had major surgery may have stress-related stomach ulcers.
Intestinal ulcers are usually caused by excess stomach acid and infection with Helicobacter pylori.
Stomach cancer: it is one of the most frequent causes of bleeding in the digestive tract.
Hemorrhoids – These are probably the most common cause of visible blood in the lower digestive tract, especially blood that appears bright red.
Hemorrhoids are enlarged veins in the anal area that can rupture and produce blood, which can appear on the toilet or on toilet paper.
Anal fissures: Tearing in the lining of the anus can also cause bleeding. These are often very painful.
Colon polyps: These are growths that can occur in the colon. Some can turn into cancer over time.
Colorectal cancer can also cause bleeding.
Intestinal infections: Bloody diarrhea and inflammation can be the result of intestinal infections.
Ulcerative colitis: Inflammation and extensive superficial bleeding from small ulcerations may be the reason why blood appears in the stool.
The Crohn ‘s disease : a condition of the immune system. It causes inflammation and can cause rectal bleeding.
Diverticular disease: It is caused by diverticula, small bags that protrude from the wall of the colon.
Blood vessel problems: As we age, problems can arise in the blood vessels of the large intestine, which can cause bleeding.
It is not a normal part of getting older, but it is more likely in the future.
Ischemic colitis: This means that not enough oxygen reaches the cells that line the intestine.
Bloody diarrhea, often accompanied by stomach pain, can occur if not enough blood reaches the intestine.
This condition results in ischemia, or lack of oxygen, and damage to the cells that line the intestine.
What are the symptoms?
The most common symptoms include:
- Bright red blood covering the stool.
- Dark blood mixed with stool.
- Black or tarry stools.
- Bright red blood in vomit.
- Appearance of coffee grounds from vomit.
Other signs, which also need a doctor’s attention, include:
- Soft spot.
- Pale appearance
- Anemia, that is, the blood is low in iron-rich hemoglobin.
The location of the bleeding can affect the symptoms that the patient may observe.
So if it comes from the rectum or the colon, that is, the lower GI, the bright red blood will be covered or mixed with the stool.
Stool may mix with darker blood if the bleeding is higher up in the colon or at the end of the small intestine.
When there is bleeding in the upper GI, that is, in the esophagus, stomach, or duodenum, the stool is usually black, tarry, and has a very bad odor.
Vomit may be bright red in color or look like coffee grounds when bleeding comes from the esophagus, stomach, or duodenum.
If the bleeding is hidden, the patient may not notice any change in stool color.
It should be noted that some medications and foods can give stool a red or black appearance that looks like blood but is not. These might be:
- The iron.
- The antibiotic cefdinir.
Symptoms also vary depending on the speed of bleeding.
If sudden, massive bleeding occurs, the person may feel weak, dizzy, short of breath, or have cramps or diarrhea.
You could also go into shock, with a rapid pulse and a drop in blood pressure. The patient may turn pale.
If bleeding is slow and occurs for a long time, the person may gradually feel fatigued, lethargic, and short of breath.
Also, anemia can occur, making the skin look paler.
Diagnosis of bleeding in the digestive tract
If the patient notices unusual bleeding, they need to make an appointment to see the doctor. They will ask questions about the symptoms present and perform a physical exam.
Symptoms such as changes in bowel habits, stool color, consistency, and pain or tenderness can tell the doctor which area of the gastrointestinal tract is affected.
The doctor will usually perform a stool exam. He will also do a blood test to check if the patient is anemic.
The results will give the doctor an idea of the extent of the bleeding and how chronic it may be.
If the patient has bleeding in the digestive tract, the doctor will likely perform an endoscopy. Such a procedure is common and allows the doctor to see exactly where the symptom is happening. In many cases, the doctor can also use the endoscope to treat the cause of the bleeding.
The endoscope is a thin, flexible tool that you can insert through your mouth or rectum to view areas of concern.
In addition, this tool can take a tissue sample and perform a biopsy, if necessary.
Several other procedures can be used to find the source of bleeding, including:
X-rays: During these tests, the patient must drink a liquid containing barium that is placed through the rectum.
Then an X-ray is used to look for unusual signs. The barium glows in this imaging test.
Angiography: Doctors inject a dye into a vein before doing a CT scan or MRI. The dye helps show where the problem is.
In some cases, doctors use angiography to inject a drug that can stop bleeding.
Radionuclide scanning: Doctors can use this detection technique to find bleeding sites, especially in the lower digestive tract.
For the procedure, the patient will receive an injection of a small amount of harmless radioactive material.
The doctor will then use a special camera to take pictures of the person’s organs.
How is it treated?
Most cases can be treated. Treatment will depend on what is causing the bleeding. Endoscopy may be done for treatment.
If the upper GI is bleeding, the doctor can control it by injecting medicine directly into the problem area, using an endoscope to guide the needle.
A doctor can also use heat to treat or cauterize a bleeding area and surrounding tissue through the scope, or place a clip in a bleeding blood vessel.
However, those techniques are not always enough. Sometimes surgery is necessary.
Once the bleeding is under control, the patient may need to take medication to prevent it from coming back.