Pooping blood can be quite a scary experience.
You look at the toilet paper or at the toilet bowl and notice bright red blood in your poop.
Worrisome isn’t it?
Blood in stool is medically called hematochezia, derived from the Greek words: hemato (blood) and khezein (to defecate).
There are so many reasons why a person may poop blood.
Fortunately, most cases of blood in stool aren’t life-threatening. This does not mean all is well. In fact, let me make it clear: blood in stool is never normal.
Sometimes, blood in stool is an emergency, so it is very vital to find out why you’re pooping blood by getting yourself checked by a doctor or visiting a health facility near you.
Now in this article, I won’t just be churning out a list of possible causes of bloody diarrhea.
Rather, we would discuss how exactly it happens, the different ways blood in stool can present, other warning signs to look out for and what to expect from a visit to your doctor.
So, let’s dive in.
What Does It Mean When You Poop Blood?
The presence of blood in poop typically means there is an 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 blood to leak into your poop.
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.
Here’s the reason why:
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.
Medically, black stools are referred to as melena. They are commonly seen when someone ingests blood from a nasal bleed or even from a bleeding ulcer in the stomach.
We wrote a detailed article on black stools, you can check it out for a detailed list of different things that can cause black poop.
So, here’s the takeaway for you:
Melena (black stools) usually signify bleeding from higher up the digestive system (like the mouth, esophagus and stomach), while hematochezia (red blood in stool) usually signifies bleeding from the lower parts of the digestive system (like the large intestine, rectum and anus).
Sometimes blood in stool is hidden (occult blood)
It is not every time the presence of blood in stool is obvious. Sometimes, someone could be bleeding from an organ in their digestive system and pass seemingly normal stools.
We refer to this as occult blood loss. That means it is hidden from the naked eyes.
This is why someone with a peptic ulcer with a suspicion of ‘internal bleeding’ can be asked to take a stool test for occult blood despite passing ‘normal colored stools’.
Now, let’s go on to different possible causes of red blood in stool.
9 Causes of Blood in Stool You Should Know
Here’s a list of different possible causes of red blood in stool (hematochezia):
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. They can also bleed and cause bloodstained stools.
A high fiber diet is often helpful in combating it.
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 of blood in poop after diverticulosis.
They are cushions of tissue located around the anus that have a very good blood supply. While they are normally present in everyone, sometimes they can enlarge and bleed especially when pressured by hard poop.
They could be painful or painless, cause itching and the feeling of a 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 pain, usually when pooping. Sometimes, anal fissures could also bleed, causing bloody stools.
Anal fissures can be very painful. Because of this, people who have these tears are often scared to pass stools, making them more likely to be constipated.
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 blood stained poop.
5. Ulcerative Colitis
Just like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis is a form of inflammatory bowel disease. The difference? 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 fit for drinking.
Infections can cause the erosion of the lining of parts of the intestines, leading to the presence of mucus and 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.
Polyps are noncancerous outgrowths on the lining of the colon. They are usually without symptoms and can be found on routine colonic examinations.
Sometimes they can bleed and cause streaks of blood in poop. Some polyps also have the potential to become cancerous.
9. Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer, on the other hand, is cancer affecting the colon (large intestine) and the rectum (lower part of the digestive system before the anus).
According to the World Cancer Research Fund Institute, colorectal cancer is the third most common cause of cancer, after lung and breast cancer. There were almost 1.4 million new cases in 2012.
Colorectal cancer often presents with the passage of bright red blood in stool.
Now if you were pooping blood recently, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have colorectal cancer. There are many other reasons why you can pass bloody stools.
So don’t panic, instead, you should go see a doctor or visit a healthcare facility. This brings me to our next point:
How Is Blood in Stool Treated?
The passage of bloody stool is never normal. 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, blood in stool can be treated as an emergency.
When you report it to a doctor, the doctor would try to ascertain why exactly you passed blood in your poop.
You will be asked questions like when it started, an estimate of the quantity of blood loss 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 of bloody stools is dependent on its cause. Sometimes, medications may be sufficient to treat it, other times surgery may be a better option. Passing bloody stools can also warrant hospital admissions.
Pooping blood can be a scary thing to notice. Even though it is never normal, it is not usually life-threatening.
Passing bright red blood in stool (hematochezia) usually suggests bleeding from the lower part of the digestive system while bleeding from the upper part of the digestive system usually presents with the passage of black or dark stools (melena).
If you notice blood in your stools, you should always check with a doctor to know its cause and get treated.
Read Next: Melena: What causes black stool?