Bright Red Blood in Stool
Finding bright red blood in stool can be an alarming experience. However, many potential causes for this condition exist, and not all of them are serious or life threatening but it’s important to learn about some of the variations so you can make an informed determination with your health care provider.
What Causes Bright Red Blood in Stool?
The medical term for rectal bleeding is hematochezia, which actually describes the passage of bright red blood (often mixed with feces and/or dried blood clots) from the anus. The location of the bleeding in the intestinal tract determines the color of the blood; i.e. the point of origin can alter the hue. While the actual bleeding may occur anywhere within the digestive system, it is most commonly found in the colon, rectum, or anus. In most cases, the closer the proximity of the bleeding site to the anus, the brighter red the blood will appear due to its shorter transit time until exiting the body. Because of this factor, blood from the anus, rectum, or sigmoid colon is usually bright red while blood from the transverse colon would more likely present as a deep red or even maroon color.
Hemorrhoids – How Do They Relate to Bloody Stool?
The most common cause of bright red blood in stool is hemorrhoids. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 50% of all Americans over the age of 50 are affected by hemorrhoids.
Hemorrhoids are actually enlarged, raised varicose veins occurring in the anal-rectal area. These veins can cause severe protrusion, pain, and even bleeding during or after bowel movements. The onset of hemorrhoids can begin at any age. Even in infants and children, chronic constipation can lead to rough straining which in turns pushes out the veins or causes them to burst. Overeating, lack of exercise, and childbirth all exacerbate the problem. Hemorrhoids can generally be managed at home but they can occasionally require surgery if the tissue damage is severe or prolonged. Hemorrhoids are not usually serious; but if rectal bleeding persists, you should see your healthcare provider to determine the cause or to receive an accurate constipation diagnosis.
Anal Fissures – What are They?
Bright red blood in stool is also often caused by anal fissures, which is a small tear or split in the anal mucosa. These fissures can cause pain during bowel movements as well as bleeding. Bright red blood may appear on the stool itself or on the toilet paper after a bowel movement. Anal fissures are extremely common in infants due to their very sensitive tissue and then it becomes less frequent with age. In adults however, fissures are often caused by constipation but the source can also be prolonged diarrhea. In the elderly, anal fissures can also be caused by decreased blood flow in the anal area. Most fissures heal quickly without treatment, but persistent fissures require medical attention.
Inflammatory Bowel Diseases
Inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease, Regional enteritis, Ileitis, and Granulomatous ileocolitis, may also be the source of bright red blood in stool. The cause of most inflammatory bowel diseases is unknown but is believed to originate with a problem in the body’s immune system.
A healthy immune system protects the body from harmful invaders as well. In people with IBD, the immune system sometimes has trouble determining the difference between helpful substances and harmful ones. Thus, the immune system becomes overactive and this can develop as chronic inflammation.
Additional symptoms of IBD’s can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Persistent diarrhea
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
Intestinal Infections Can Cause Bleeding?
Intestinal infections, such as bacterial enterocolitis, bacterial gastroenteritis, and acute gastroenteritis are another source of bright red blood in stool. These infections, caused by bacterial toxins, in turn cause inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Many of these infections are often referred to as food poisoning and are caused by improperly prepared food.
In addition to the possible appearance of bright red blood in stool, symptoms of intestinal infections include:
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
The replacement of fluids and electrolytes is essential. In the case of severe infections, medical attention should be sought immediately.
Colorectal Cancer – A Serious Cause for Bloody Stool
Colorectal cancer is a very serious cause of bright red blood in stool of which everyone should be aware for safety’s sake. The underlying cause of colorectal cancer is unknown, but risk factors include:
- Colorectal polyps
- Cancer anywhere else in the body
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Genetic history of cancer (i.e. it runs in the family)
- Personal history of breast or prostate cancer
This type of cancer is also associated with a low-fiber/high fat diet, such as one including large amounts of red meat, salty snacks, and low in organic vegetables and grains. Nearly all colorectal cancers begin as benign polyps in the colon. These polyps may cause rectal bleeding and, if diagnosed at this stage, may be removed as a preventative measure. In almost all cases, successful treatment is more likely if the cancer is detected early enough. Colorectal cancer is a very frightening disease so early medical attention is crucial and can save your life.
What are Some Other Reasons for Bloody Stool?
Other causes for bright red blood in stool can include:
- Diverticular bleeding
- Vascular malformation
- Bowel ischemia (lack of proper blood flow)
- Internal trauma
- Foreign objects in the anal or rectal areas
- Infestation by harmful organisms
Some causes of rectal bleeding are quite serious, while others are merely an annoyance. Only a qualified physician specializing in digestive disorders can work with you to determine the cause of bright red blood in stool. If the condition is ongoing, or if you suddenly notice blood where there has been none before, it is important to seek medical attention immediately.