What is rectal bleeding?

Usually, bleeding from the upper gastrointestinal tract manifests as black stool known as melena. The black color happens thanks to the chemical changes that occur as the blood passes through the digestive tract.

Rectal bleeding varies depending on the severity. People may experience mild rectal bleeding or severe bleeding, resulting in significant blood loss accompanying symptoms that include dizziness, fainting, and difficulty breathing.

What causes rectal bleeding?

Rectal bleeding may happen by any number of gastrointestinal issues. The bleeding may come from any part of the gastrointestinal tract to the rectum. Rectal bleeding can be mild or the result of severe conditions of prolonged bleeding. Rectal bleeding can also occur from cancers in the digestive tract.

If rectal bleeding is left untreated, it can become a life-threatening loss of blood. Attempt immediate medical care for serious symptoms, such as pale skin and difficulty breathing, severe abdominal pain, vomiting blood, black material, or change in the level of consciousness.

Some causes of rectal bleeding include, but are not limited to:

  • Hemorrhoids
  • Angiodysplasia (abnormalities in the intestinal blood vessels)
  • Hemophilia (Bleeding disorders
  • Colorectal cancer or benign tumors
  • Diverticulitis (inflammation of the colon)
  • Dysentery (bloody diarrhea with infection)
  • Esophageal Varices (swollen veins in the esophagus with potential to rupture)
  • Esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus)
  • Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach)
  • IBS (includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)
  • Over-the-counter medication effects
  • Peptic ulcer

Life-threatening causes of rectal bleeding

  • Cancers of the digestive tract
  • Perforated peptic ulcer
  • Perforation of the intestine

How is rectal bleeding treated?

Treatment for rectal bleeding begins with seeking medical care from your health care provider. Diagnostic procedures, such as endoscopy, colonoscopy, or angiography, may pinpoint the source of the bleeding.

In an endoscopy, a flexible tube with a camera is inserted into your digestive tract. The tube may be inserted by mouth or, in the case of colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, through the anus. Another technique to locate the origin of the bleeding is angiography which a dye is inserted into a vein to show the area of blood leakage. In many cases, once the source is located, these same tools and techniques can be used to stop the bleeding, for example, by delivering chemicals, laser energy, or electricity through the tube or into the vein. If these procedures do not control the bleeding, surgery may be required.

In cases of severe bleeding, other measures may also be used, including:

  • Blood transfusions
  • Drainage of the stomach contents
  • Intravenous fluid replacement

If the bleeding was caused by an underlying disease, treatment of that condition may help to prevent further episodes of bleeding. Depending on the cause, treatment may include antibiotics, antacids, or anti gas medications; or, in cases of cancer, radiation, and chemotherapy.