It’s a scary thing, seeing blood in your stool (aka “fecal matter” or “poop”). If you see bright red blood on the tissue or in the toilet, that is likely due to rectal bleeding. Blood in your stool usually has what is described as a black and tarry appearance. When there is bleeding higher up in the colon or digestive system, it makes the stool look very dark.
Any time you notice blood or think there might be blood in your stool, you should contact your doctor. This isn’t always a sign of cancer, but it’s good to get it checked out right away no matter what it’s from. It’s also important to know that not all bleeding in the intestinal tract will lead to blood that’s visible to the naked eye. You may have blood in your stool and not know it. So, if you have any signs or symptoms of colorectal cancer or you’re over age 50 (45 if you’re African American), talk to your doctor about getting a colonoscopy.
Causes of Blood in Stool
Bloody stool and bloody diarrhea are both signs of colorectal cancer, and therefore they should never be ignored. The sooner you are diagnosed, the more effective treatment options will be.
There are other causes of blood in your stool, such as:
- Hemorrhoids – Hemorrhoids, otherwise known as piles, are swollen blood vessels in rectum. They often cause itching or burning sensation, and they may bleed. The blood seen with hemorrhoids is usually bright red.
- Gastroenteritis – Gastroenteritis is an infection in the stomach or intestines caused by a virus or bacteria, such as norovirus or food poisoning. It can lead to bloody diarrhea. Nausea and vomiting may also be present.
- Diverticula – Diverticula are tiny pockets or bulges in the lining of the lower bowel. They can get infected and cause pain, and if they rupture, they can cause bleeding. In some cases, there may be significant bleeding even without pain.
- Polyps in the bowel – Polyps are clumps of cells that can grow in the lining of the colon and rectum. Polyps don’t always cause problems, but they can develop into cancer if not removed. They may also bleed a little during bowel movements.
- Anal fissure – Anal fissures are tiny tears in the anal area that are quite painful. If they bleed, the blood is typically bright red. Pain and bleeding may occur during and after bowel movements.
- Anal fistula – Anal fistula is a crack or crease that forms between the anus and the anal canal. They can be quite painful, and they might bleed.
- Angiodysplasia – Angiodysplasia is rectal bleeding caused by abnormal blood vessels in the gastrointestinal tract. It usually happens in elderly people, and it doesn’t normally cause pain.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis –IBD can cause many symptoms including bloody diarrhea.
- Anal sex and STIs – Damage to the anus from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or anal sex can cause bleeding in the rectum. This blood is usually bright red.
- Anticoagulant medications – Anticoagulant drugs, also known as blood thinners, can sometimes cause internal bleeding, which may be seen in stool. That blood would normally cause black and tarry stools.
Don’t Wait. Get Screened.
If you have blood in your stool or notice blood in the toilet or on the toilet paper after a bowel movement, call your doctor right away. Do not wait to see if it goes away on its own.
And If you’re over 50 (or over 45 if you’re African American), we recommend scheduling a colonoscopy – whether you have risk factors or not. If you do have risk factors, such as a family history or certain inherited colon cancer syndromes, you may need your colonoscopy earlier. Ask your doctor when the right time is for you to have yours.
Call (248) 577-9277 to ask for a referral for your colorectal cancer screen, and take control of your bowel health today.