What Is Gastrointestinal Bleeding?
(GI) bleeding is a serious sign of trouble within your digestive tract. Your
digestive tract consists of the following organs:
- small intestine (including the
- large intestine or colon
bleeding can occur in any one of these organs. If the bleeding occurs in your
esophagus, stomach, or initial portion of the small intestine, it is considered
upper GI bleeding. Gastrointestinal bleeding in the lower small intestine,
large intestine, rectum, or anus is called lower GI bleeding. The amount of
bleeding you experience can range from a very small amount of blood to a
life-threatening hemorrhage. In some cases, the amount of bleeding may be so
small that it only shows up on microscopic examination.
What Causes GI Bleeding?
parts of the digestive tract are affected by specific conditions, and there are
various causes of bleeding in different regions.
Causes of Upper GI Bleeding
ulcers (open sores that develop in the lining of your stomach or duodenum
(initial part of the small intestine)) are a common cause of GI bleeding.
Peptic ulcers are most commonly caused by a bacterial infection known as H. pylori. Enlarged veins in your
esophagus can tear and bleed as a result of a condition called esophageal
varices. Tears in the walls of your esophagus can also cause GI bleeding in a
condition known as a Mallory-Weiss tear.
Causes of Lower GI Bleeding
the most common causes of lower GI bleeding is colitis. This occurs when your
colon becomes inflamed. This could be caused by an infection, food poisoning,
parasites, Crohn’s disease, or reduced blood flow in the colon. Hemorrhoids are
another common cause of GI or rectal bleeding. A hemorrhoid is an enlarged vein
in your rectum or anus. These enlarged veins can rupture and bleed, causing
rectal bleeding. A final cause of lower GI bleed is from an anal fissure: this
is a tear in the muscular ring that forms the anal sphincter, and is usually
caused by constipation or hard stools.
What Are the Signs of Gastrointestinal Bleeding?
a few things that you can look out for if you suspect that you might have GI or
rectal bleeding. Your stool might become darker, like coal tar, if the bleeding
is coming from the stomach or upper GI tract. You may pass blood from your rectum
during bowel movements, which could cause you to see some blood in your toilet
or on your toilet tissue. This blood is usually bright red in color. Vomiting
blood is another sign that there is bleeding somewhere in your GI tract.
see any of these symptoms or if you have vomit that looks like coffee grounds,
call your doctor immediately. GI bleeding could signal a potentially
life-threatening condition, and prompt medical treatment is essential. Seek
treatment immediately if you experience paleness, weakness, or shortness of
breath. These could be signs of severe bleeding.
How Do Doctors Determine the Cause of Bleeding?
of the underlying cause of your GI bleeding will usually start with your doctor
asking you about the symptoms you’ve been experiencing and your medical
history. A stool sample might be taken to check for the presence of blood, and
blood tests looking for signs of anemia (a low amount of healthy red blood
cells) might be performed as well.
bleeding is most commonly diagnosed by doing an endoscopic examination.
Endoscopy is a procedure that involves the use of a small camera located atop a
long, flexible endoscopic tube that your doctor places down your throat. The
scope is then passed through your upper GI tract. This allows your doctor to
see inside your GI tract and potentially locate the source of your bleeding.
Because endoscopy is limited to the upper GI tract, an enteroscopy might be
performed if the cause of your bleeding can’t be found during endoscopy.
Enteroscopy is similar to endoscopy except there is usually a balloon attached
to the camera-tipped tube. When inflated, this balloon allows your doctor to
open up the intestine and see inside.
determine the cause of lower GI bleeding, your doctor may perform a
colonoscopy. During this test your doctor will insert a small, flexible tube
with a camera attached into the rectum to view the entire length of the colon
(large intestine). Air will be inserted through the tube to provide a better
view. A biopsy (tissue sample) may be taken for additional testing.
What Can Be Done to Relieve Symptoms?
can be useful, not only in diagnosing GI bleeding, but also for treating it.
The use of special scopes with a camera and laser attachment, along with
medications, can be used to stop the bleeding. In addition, tools can be used with
a scope to apply clips to the bleeding vessels to stop the bleeding.
hemorrhoids are the cause of your bleeding, over-the-counter treatments might
work for you. If you find that store-bought remedies are ineffective, your
doctor might use a heat treatment to shrink your hemorrhoids. Infections are
usually treated with the use of antibiotics.