Seeing blood in your stool may set off all your alarm bells. And it should. Blood in stool indicates something is happening in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. In most cases, bloody stools aren’t too serious, but they are a symptom worth discussing with a medical expert.
At Midwest Hemorrhoid Treatment Center in Town and Country, Missouri, our board-certified family physician Dr. Betsy Clemens is an expert at diagnosing and treating anorectal disorders, which are common causes of bloody stools.
Here, we want to explain why blood in your stool is a symptom you shouldn’t ignore.
What bloody stools look like
It’s hard to miss bright red blood in the toilet bowl after a bowel movement. You may even see red smears on the toilet paper. But not all bloody stools look the same, and the color of your stool can help determine the location of the bleeding.
Bright red and bloody stool
If you see bright red blood coating your stool, you’re looking at fresh blood. This means the source of your bleeding is in the lower part of your colon, rectum, or anus.
Dark red stools
If your stools are dark red or you see dark red blood mixed with your stool, the bleeding is likely occurring higher up in the colon or the small intestine.
Black or tarry-looking stools indicate bleeding from the esophagus or stomach. The black, tarry color indicates that the blood has been exposed to stomach acid and digestive enzymes.
Why bloody stools are concerning
You should never ignore any blood in your stool because it’s a symptom of colon cancer. When excluding skin cancer, colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States. Blood in your stool may also occur if you have colon polyps, benign growths that may become cancer when left untreated.
Another concern when we see blood in your stool is that we know you’re losing blood somewhere along the GI tract. A chronic GI bleed is a common cause of iron-deficiency anemia. Even benign conditions like internal hemorrhoids may bleed every time you have a bowel movement, putting you at risk of anemia.
Iron deficiency anemia may cause other health problems like headaches, fatigue, or shortness of breath when left untreated.
Testing to find the cause
Finding the source of the blood in your stools is essential to provide the treatment, and it may require diagnostic testing. The type of testing you need may depend on where we suspect the bleeding is coming from. This is why the color of your stool is so essential.
Testing may start with a complete blood count (CBC) to check for iron deficiency anemia. This information can shed some light on the seriousness of the bleeding. For our patients, we also do a rectal exam to check for hemorrhoids and anal fissures.
Suppose we have concerns your bleeding is in the colon or stomach. In that case, we refer you to a gastroenterologist who may perform a colonoscopy or upper endoscopy to evaluate the lining of your GI tract to find the source of your bleeding.
You may not always feel comfortable discussing your bowel habits, even with your doctor. But we always want to hear about bloody stools to rule out serious health conditions like colon cancer and provide the right treatment to stop the bleeding.
Call our office at 314-669-2758 today to schedule an appointment with our expert.