Blood in Stool: What It Means, Causes & Treatment

Having blood in stool can be quite a scary experience.

Fortunately, most cases aren’t life-threatening. This does not mean all is well. In fact, let’s make it clear: it is never normal.

Sometimes, it is an emergency, so it is very vital to find out why it happened by getting yourself checked by a doctor or visiting a health facility near you.

In this article, we would discuss why and how exactly it happens, other warning signs to look out for and what to expect from a visit to your doctor.

What It Means

blood in stool

It typically means there is ongoing bleeding somewhere in the digestive system. The digestive system extends from your mouth down to your anus. Bleeding from any structure in this system can cause this condition.

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It is important to note that blood in poop isn’t always red.

If the bleeding is from a site high up in the digestive system (like the esophagus or stomach), it can present as black poop instead.

When there is bleeding from any structure high up the digestive system, the blood flows down and is acted on by digestive enzymes. The action of these digestive enzymes on blood changes its color from red to black.

So, passing black stools also depicts the presence of blood in poop. They are commonly seen when someone ingests blood from a nasal trauma or even from an ulcer in the stomach.

Black stools usually signify bleeding from higher up the digestive system (like the mouth, esophagus, and stomach), while fresh red blood in stool usually signifies bleeding from the lower parts of the digestive system (like the large intestine, rectum, and anus).

Causes of Blood in Stool

Here’s a list of different possible causes:

1. Diverticulosis

Diverticulosis is the presence of multiple small pouches on the wall of the colon. They tend to occur more in older people, affecting about 50% of all people above 60 years.

While they usually exist without causing any symptoms, they can occasionally become infected, causing fevers and abdominal pain. A high fiber diet is often helpful in combating it.

2. Hemorrhoids

If you aren’t familiar with the term hemorrhoids, you should have heard the word ‘piles’. They both mean the same thing.

Hemorrhoids are the second most common cause after diverticulosis. They can also lead to obvious blood when you wipe.

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They are cushions of tissue located around the anus that has a very good blood supply. While they are normally present in everyone, sometimes they can enlarge and cause rectal bleeding, especially when pressured by hard poop.

They could be painful or painless, cause itching and the feeling of swelling around the anus when taking a poo. Doctors often treat hemorrhoids by recommending a high-fiber diet and stool softeners. In some cases, surgical procedures are performed to treat them.

3. Anal fissures

Anal fissures are simply tears or cracks in the lining of the anus.

The main symptom associated with anal fissures is painful poop. Sometimes, anal fissures could also bleed.

Anal fissures can make your butt hurt when you poop. Because of this, people who have these tears are often scared to pass stools, making them more likely to be constipated. Ironically, anal fissures are often caused by constipation- when you don’t poop regularly.

Just as with hemorrhoids, anal fissures can be cared for by taking a high-fiber diet and by using stool softeners.

Most times, they heal within a few weeks. If medical treatment does not provide relief, a surgical procedure called ‘anal sphincterotomy’ is usually recommended.

4. Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It can affect any part of the digestive system, causing inflammatory patches.

It can cause symptoms like poor appetite, diarrhea, mucus in stool and bloodstained poop.

5. Ulcerative Colitis

Just like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis is a form of inflammatory bowel disease. Ulcerative colitis particularly affects the large intestines. Also, the inflammation doesn’t appear in patches but in a continuous pattern.

It can also cause abdominal pain and green colored stools.

6. Intestinal Infections

Intestinal infections can be caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites. These are usually gotten from eating contaminated food or drinking water that isn’t clean enough.

Infections can cause the erosion of the lining of parts of the intestines, resulting in the presence of mucus in stools. Infections can also lead to bloody diarrhea.

7. Trauma and Foreign Bodies

Trauma to the abdomen and the presence of foreign bodies in the digestive system can cause tears, organ damage and bloody stools.

8. Polyps

Polyps are noncancerous outgrowths on the lining of the colon. They are usually without symptoms and can be found on routine colon examinations.

Sometimes they can bleed and cause streaks of blood in poop. Some polyps also have the potential to become cancerous.

9. Colorectal Cancer

This is cancer affecting the colon (large intestine) and the rectum (lower part of the digestive system before the anus).

It is the third most common cause of cancer, after lung and breast cancer. If you were pooping blood recently, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have colorectal cancer. There are many other reasons why this can happen.

So don’t panic, instead, you should go see a doctor or visit a healthcare facility.

How Is It Treated?

It is always important to report it to a doctor.

Gastroenterologists are physicians that specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases that affect the digestive system. Depending on the amount of blood loss and the associated symptoms, it can be treated as an emergency.

When you report it to a doctor, the doctor would try to ascertain why exactly it happened.

You will be asked questions like when it started, an estimate of the quantity and if there were any associated symptom like anal pain, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, weakness, and fainting.

You will then be examined. The doctor would try to ascertain how much blood was lost and may examine your anus. Some tests may be requested to help achieve a diagnosis or to evaluate the severity of the problem. These could be:

  • Blood tests
  • Stool test
  • Endoscopy (The use of devices that help the doctor have a visual look inside the digestive system)

The definitive treatment is dependent on its cause. Sometimes, medications may be sufficient to treat it, other times surgery may be a better option. It can also warrant hospital admissions.

Conclusion

Blood in stool can be a scary thing to notice and is never normal.

If you notice blood in your stools, you should always check with a doctor to know its cause and get treated.

References

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Omiete Charles-Davies, MBBS

Dr. Omiete Charles-Davies graduated from the University of Lagos with a degree in medicine and surgery. He is a licensed medical doctor and has worked in different private and government-owned hospitals as a general medical practitioner. For fun, he loves to travel and experience new cultures.
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