Gastrointestinal Bleeding

What is Gastrointestinal Bleeding

Gastrointestinal bleeding is bleeding somewhere along the digestive tract, between the mouth and anus. This can be caused by various problems. The severity of these problems can range from mild to serious or even life-threatening.

If you have GI bleeding, you may find blood in your stools (feces), you may have black stools, or you may vomit blood. If there is a lot of bleeding, you may need to stay in the hospital.

What are the causes?

This condition may be caused by:

  • Esophagitis. This is inflammation, irritation, or swelling of the esophagus.
  • Hemorrhoids. These are swollen veins in the rectum.
  • Anal fissures. These are areas of painful tearing that are often caused by passing hard stool.
  • Diverticulosis. These are pouches that form on the colon over time, with age, and may bleed a lot.
  • Diverticulitis. This is inflammation in areas with diverticulosis. It can cause pain, fever, and bloody stools, although bleeding may be mild.
  • Polyps and cancer. Colon cancer often starts out as precancerous polyps.
  • Gastritis and ulcers. With these, bleeding may come from the upper GI tract, near the stomach.

What are the signs or symptoms?

Symptoms of GI bleeding may include:

  • Bright red blood in your vomit, or vomit that looks like coffee grounds.
  • Bloody, black, or tarry stools.
    • Bleeding from the lower GI tract will usually cause red or maroon blood in the stools.
    • Bleeding from the upper GI tract may cause black, tarry, often bad-smelling stools.
    • In certain cases, if the bleeding is fast enough, the stools may be red.
  • Pain or cramping in the abdomen.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition may be diagnosed based on:

  • Medical history and physical exam.
  • Various tests, such as:
    • Blood tests.
    • X-rays and other imaging tests.
    • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD). In this test, a flexible, lighted tube is used to look at your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine.
    • Colonoscopy. In this test, a flexible, lighted tube is used to look at your colon.

How is this treated?

Treatment for this condition depends on the cause of the bleeding. For example:

  • For bleeding from the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, or colon, the health care provider doing your EGD or colonoscopy may be able to stop the bleeding as part of the procedure.
  • Inflammation or infection of the colon can be treated with medicines.
  • Certain rectal problems can be treated with creams, suppositories, or warm baths.
  • Surgery is sometimes needed.
  • Blood transfusions are sometimes needed if a lot of blood has been lost.

If bleeding is slow, you may be allowed to go home. If there is a lot of bleeding, you will need to stay in the hospital for observation.

Follow these instructions at home:

  • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.
  • Eat foods that are high in fiber. This will help to keep your stools soft. These foods include whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Eating 1–3 prunes each day works well for many people.
  • Drink enough fluid to keep your urine clear or pale yellow.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your health care provider. This is important.

Contact your doctor if:

  • Your symptoms do not improve.

Get help right away if:

  • Your bleeding increases.
  • You feel light-headed or you faint.
  • You feel weak.
  • You have severe cramps in your back or abdomen.
  • You pass large blood clots in your stool.
  • Your symptoms are getting worse.

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