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Understanding Rectal Bleeding

Outline of man showing gastrointestinal system.

Rectal bleeding is when blood passes through your rectum and anus. It can happen with or without a bowel movement. Rectal bleeding may be a sign of a serious problem in your rectum, colon, or upper GI tract. Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any rectal bleeding.

The GI tract

The gastrointestinal (GI) tract includes the:

  • Mouth

  • Esophagus

  • Stomach

  • Small intestine

  • Large intestine (colon)

  • Rectum

  • Anus

The food you eat is digested as it passes through the GI tract. Solid waste leaves the body through the rectum.

Rectal bleeding and GI problems

The cause of rectal bleeding may be found in any part of the GI tract. The colon or rectum may be the site of your bleeding problem. Or bleeding may be due to problems farther up the GI tract, such as in the small intestine, duodenum, or stomach.

Causes of rectal bleeding

These are some possible causes:

  • Hemorrhoids (swollen veins in the rectum and anus)

  • Fissures (tears in or near the anus)

  • Diverticulosis (inflamed pockets in the colon wall)

  • Infection

  • Ischemia (low blood flow)

  • Radiation damage

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis)

  • Ulcers in the upper GI tract and inflammation of the large intestine

  • Abnormal tissue growths (tumors or polyps) in the GI tract

  • A bulging rectum (also called a rectal prolapse)

  • Abnormal blood vessels in the small intestine or in the colon

Common symptoms

Common symptoms are:

  • Rectal pain, itching, or soreness

  • Belly pain, including upper belly pain near the stomach (epigastric pain)

  • Small drops of blood that sometimes appear on the stool or toilet paper

  • Stool that looks black or tarry 

Rectal bleeding can also happen without pain.

Online Medical Reviewer: Jen Lehrer MD
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2019
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