Blood in stool is often discovered with some dismay, accompanied suitably by exclamations of bloody (the adjective, not the expletive). Stools are coated with scarlet red blood droplets. Crimson red blotches of blood blemishes the toilet tissue. Bright red spots of blood dribble into the toilet bowl or down the legs. A sudden pang of bewilderment causes our hearts to jump a beat or two.
Perplexity is understandable but panic is unwarranted at this stage as the rectal bleeding or hemorrhaging could be attributed to any of 7 possible causes arising from the colon. Mindful attention to ensure early diagnosis and correct treatment will lighten any distracting lifestyle changes as the greater number of the 7 causes are treatable. Watchfulness is the order of the day. Begin tracking closely. If incessant bleeding and pain drags on for more than a week, consult a doctor immediately.
The problem can be solved by relevant treatment once accurate diagnosis spots the precise illness. More overwhelmingly, blood in stool may find its root cause in some kind of cancer.
Melena and Hematochezia
Medical circles refer to the bleeding as hematochezia (bright red or maroon colored blood) or melena (black colored tarry or sticky stools) or typically the less technical term, rectal bleeding. Rectal bleeding may leave via the rectum but the root cause may be in the colon (large intestine) or the small intestine. In the colon, the 7 known causes are cancer, colon polyps, diverticulosis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, intestinal ischemia and peptic ulcer.
Ranked the 3rd most frequent cancer in the world, colorectal cancer is also the 3rd most prevalent cause of cancer-related deaths, registering up to 640,000 annually. It is the reason why one must consult a medical professional for constant blood in stool.
Malignant growths in the colon, appendix and rectum are classified as colorectal cancer. Found mainly via colonoscopy (visual diagnosis with a camera mounted on a flexible tube inserted through the anus), colorectal cancer treatment involves surgical removal accompanied by chemotherapy. Timely detection often leads to a total cure. Those over 50 and those with family history of cancers are grouped under the higher risk group. Colorectal cancer is gender blind, distressing both women and men, with no noticeable bias for either sex.
Another critical piece of information needs to be highlighted. Contrary to popular internet literature, colorectal cancer typically results in occult (not visible to the naked eye) blood in feces i.e it is NOT a regular cause of visible blood in stool! Colorectal cancer causes occult bleeding i.e. blood is not perceptible to the naked eye, and special tests are required for detection. This is according to the University of Michigan Health System. Diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, weight loss, appetite loss and incessant fatigue are accompanying symptoms to watch out for.
Affixing on the walls of the intestines or the rectum, polyps are mainly benign and may be raised or flat. Those above 50 years of age and with a family history of polyps and colorectal cancer are prone to polyps. Smoking, alcohol, obesity and lack of exercise are contributory causal factors. So it seems that the real cause is unknown.
Whilst benign, polyps are usually excised during colonoscopy as they can turn malignant. Many people who have polyps demonstrate no symptoms at all. But in some people, blood in stool is present.
Pouches (diverticula) stretching from the colon wall is characteristic of diverticulosis. Abnormal colon pressure is postulated to be the cause of diverticula growth. A lack of dietary fiber worsens diverticulosis. Diverticulitis is an infection that may arise if food gets trapped in diverticula. Complications from diverticulitis can occur if a diseased diverticulum bursts open and releases bacteria to the abdominal cavity lining. The possibly deadly peritonitis can materialise.
Many people with diverticulosis do not see any symptoms at all. Some may feel symptoms of constipation, bloating and mild cramps. More serious symptoms include vomiting, nausea and rectal bleeding. The prospect of peritonitis attest to the urgency that blood in stool should in the first instance be examined by a doctor. Effective diagnosis of diverticulitis can be achieved with a CT (computed tomography) scan.
Colitis is categorized as an inflammatory bowel disease, a group of inflammatory conditions of the small intestine and the large intestine (colon). Inflammation is a robust reaction of the body when its tissues are damaged. Like a charging locomotive, inflammation delivers its payload of cured tissue but if not terminated it causes tissue harm instead. Ulcerative colitis is caused by ulcers which are wearing away of the mucous membrane lining.
Apart from other symptoms, blood in stool is common. The risk of peritonitis from colitis is the key reason for determining it as the cause of rectal bleeding.
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease but is also an auto-immune disease in which the body’s immune system turns on the gastrointestinal tract inducing destructive inflammation. From the mouth to the anus, Crohn’s disease can happen in any part of the gastrointestinal tract. But it usually affects the small and large intestine (colon).
Exact causes are not known but it is believed to be due to one or all of several factors including industrial environmental exposure, genetic makeup and smoking. The symptoms are blood in stool, abdominal cramps, severe bloody diarrhea, blood on toilet tissue or in the toilet bowl, fever and weight loss.
Intermittently recurrences throughout life or permanent remission both typify Crohn’s disease, also referred to as granulomatous colitis. As of now, there is no known surgical or pharmaceutical solution for Crohn’s disease. Early detection is essential for effective control of the symptoms and retarding recurrences.
The suppression of blood supply to any part of the body is termed as ischemia. Tissue damage results due to the deprivation of nutrients and oxygen by dysfunctional blood vessels. Intestinal ischemia is the lack of blood supply causing inflammation of the large intestine; a consequence of blood clots, blood vessel constriction and general high blood pressure.
Symptoms include blood in stool, abdominal bloating, abdominal cramps, violent bowel movements, nausea, fever and weight loss. Immediate medical attention is required to restore intestinal blood supply if there is serious unrelenting pain. Surgery may be necessary to eradicate damaged tissue, blockages and blood clots and to get around blocked blood vessels. To inhibit clots and infections, respective medication includes anticoagulants and antibiotics.
An highly painful ulcer, this is found in the gastrointestinal tract. An ulcer is an deterioration of the mucosal membrane that is at least 0.5cm in diameter. Peptic ulcers normally manifest in the duodenum (initial part of the small intestine) and not in the stomach as commonly believed. Peptic ulcers are largely conjectured to be caused by a bacterium that inflicts chronic gastritis.
Symptoms include blood in stool (melena), vomiting of blood, appetite and weight loss, bloating, nausea and more seriously, intestinal perforation. Peritonitis, possibly life-threatening, may develop and entail emergency surgery. Treatment of easier cases incorporates antibiotics to resist the bacteria and antacids to moderate the acidity.
Documented above are 7 very good reasons for consulting a doctor for a definite diagnosis when rectal bleeding is experienced. Rapid recovery is achievable with early detection, proper treatment and medication.
Having come this far, you may find relief, ironically, in finding that the most prevalent causes of blood in stool are hemorrhoids.
If you are interested in finding more about this topic, we have a related post on Bowel Movement Bleeding – Six Possible Causes Of Rectal Bleeding at our site. Do check this out.