bleeding in the digestive tract

Bleeding in the Digestive Tract: Why It Happens

Intestinal bleeding in the digestive tract is a sign of a problem, not a sickness in and of itself. It typically occurs due to diseases, such as haemorrhoids. If you ever notice something unusual in your everyday routine of digestive systems, you must get it checked. 

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 27th May 2022.

Bleeding in the Digestive Tract: Why It Happens

Although the bleeding may not be severe, your doctor needs to determine what is causing this symptom. The oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon, rectum, and anus are all digestive or gastrointestinal (GI) tracts. Bleeding may occur from one or more sources: a tiny region, such as an ulcer on the stomach lining, or a larger issue, such as colon inflammation.

You may not be aware if it occurs. This kind of bleeding is referred to be “occult" or “hidden" by doctors. Simple tests may be used to look for concealed blood in the faeces.

Why Does It Happen?

The causes differ based on the location of the bleeding.

If it’s in your oesophagus (the tube that links your mouth to your stomach), it may be caused by one of the following things:

Oesophagitis and gastroesophageal reflux. Acid from the stomach that “refluxes" back into the oesophagus may cause irritation and inflammation of the oesophagus (oesophagitis), leading to bleeding.  

Varices. These abnormally swollen veins are typically seen at the oesophagus’s lower end of the upper stomach. They may bleed if they burst open—the most frequent cause of oesophagal varices in liver cirrhosis. 

Mallory-Weiss tear. This is a rip in the oesophagal lining. Severe vomiting is typically the reason. It may also happen as a result of activities like coughing, hiccupping, or delivery, which raise the pressure in your stomach.  

Stomach bleeding may be caused by a variety of factors, including:

Gastritis. This is a gastrointestinal inflammation. It may be caused by alcohol and certain pain medications.  

Ulcers. They may grow and erode through a blood artery in the stomach, producing bleeding. Aside from medicine, the most frequent cause is Helicobacter pylori infection. Stress-related stomach ulcers may also occur in individuals who have had burns, shock, brain traumas, or cancer, as well as those who have had significant surgery.  Excess stomach acid and Helicobacter pylori infection are the most common causes of intestinal ulcers.

Cancer of the stomach. Lower digestive system bleeding (colon, rectum, and anus) may be caused by:

Haemorrhoids. These are the most frequent causes of visible blood in the lower digestive system, particularly bright red blood. Haemorrhoids are swollen veins in the anal region that may burst and cause blood to leak into the toilet or onto toilet paper.  

Anal fissures. Tears in the anus lining may also cause bleeding. These are often very uncomfortable and can be quite painful.  

Colon polyps. These are colonic growths that may occur. Some of these may develop into cancer over time. Bleeding may potentially be a symptom of colorectal cancer.  

Intestinal infections.  Intestinal infections may cause inflammation and bloody diarrhoea.  

Ulcerative colitis. Blood in the stool may be caused by inflammation and significant surface bleeding caused by small ulcers.  

Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune illness that affects the immune system. It may induce rectal bleeding and create irritation.  

Diverticular disease is caused by diverticula — little “pouches” that bump out the colon wall.  

Blood vessel problems. Issues in the blood arteries of the large intestine may develop as you become older, causing bleeding. It’s not a natural aspect of growing older, but it is increasingly common as you get older.

Ischemic colitis. This implies that the cells that line the gut are not receiving enough oxygen. Bloody diarrhoea, which is frequently accompanied by stomach discomfort, may occur when not enough blood reaches the gut, resulting in ischemia (lack of oxygen) and damage to the cells lining the intestine.  

What Are the Symptoms?

These are some of them:

  • Faeces covered with bright red blood.
  • Faeces has dark blood in it.
  • Black or tarry stool
  • Vomit containing bright red blood.
  • Vomit with a “coffee-grounds" look.

Other symptoms that should be reported to a doctor include:

  • Fatigue, weakness, and a pale complexion
  • Anaemia – a condition in which your blood lacks iron-rich haemoglobin.

What you observe may be influenced by the location of the bleeding.

Bright red blood will coat or mix with your faeces if it originates from the rectum or lower colon. If the bleeding occurs further up in the colon or near the end of the small intestine, the stool may include darker blood.

The faeces are typically dark, muddy, and foul-smelling when bleeding in the oesophagus, stomach, or duodenum (part of the small intestine). When oesophageal, stomach, or duodenal bleeding occurs, vomit may be bright red or have a “coffee-grounds" look.

You may not notice any changes in stool colour if bleeding is concealed.

Keep in mind that some medicines, such as iron, bismuth, antibiotic cefdinir, and certain foods, such as beets, may cause the faeces to seem red or black, but it is not, truly, red or black.

The severity of your symptoms will also vary depending on how fast you bleed.

You may feel weak, disoriented, faint, short of breath, or have cramp-like stomach discomfort or diarrhoea if you have rapid, heavy bleeding. With a fast pulse and a decrease in blood pressure, you may fall into shock. You may turn pallid.

If the bleeding is prolonged, you may experience tiredness, sleepiness, and shortness of breath. It is possible that you will develop anaemia, which will make your skin seem paler.

What Your Doctor Will Check

Make an appointment with your doctor if you detect any unusual bleeding in the digestive tract. They will interview you and do a physical examination of you. Changes in bowel patterns, stool colour (black or red), consistency, and whether or not you experience discomfort or soreness may all help your doctor figure out which part of your GI system is impacted.

They will look for blood in your faeces. You will also be given a blood test to determine whether you are anaemic. The findings will help your doctor determine the amount of the bleeding and how long it has been going on.

You’ll almost certainly need an endoscopy if you experience bleeding in your digestive tract or system. This popular technique allows your doctor to see the precise location of the problem. In many instances, the doctor may also address the source of the bleeding using the endoscope. It’s a tiny, flexible instrument that they may put into your mouth or rectum to examine the problem regions and, if necessary, obtain a tissue sample or biopsy.

There are many additional methods for locating the cause of bleeding, including:

X-rays. During these examinations, you may either drink or have a barium-containing solution injected into your rectum. After that, an X-ray is performed to check for any abnormalities. On this imaging examination, barium glows.

Angiography. Before a CT scan or MRI, your doctor will inject a dye into a vein. The colour aids in identifying the source of the problem. Doctors may use angiography to inject medication to halt the bleeding in certain instances.

Radionuclide scanning. Doctors may use this screening method to locate bleeding spots, particularly in the lower digestive system. Before your doctor uses a special camera to take images of your organs, you will be given an injection of a tiny quantity of safe radioactive material.

How Is It Treated?

The majority of instances are treatable. The source of the bleeding will determine your strategy.

An endoscopy may be required. If your upper digestive system is bleeding, for example, your doctor may be able to stop it by injecting a medicine straight into the problem region, guided by an endoscope. A clinician may also apply heat to treat (or “cauterise") a bleeding area and surrounding tissue through the endoscope or put a clip on a bleeding blood artery.

Those methods are not always sufficient. Occasionally, surgery is required.

Once the bleeding in the digestive tract has stopped, you may need to take medication to prevent it from happening again.


  2. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. 
  3. National Institutes of Health.

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