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Diseases & Conditions

GI Bleeding

Blood loss from the gastrointestinal tract can be an acute and life-threatening problem. In its most severe form, it requires emergency action by a team of specialist physicians and nurses. Cleveland Clinic employs such a specialty team, on-call 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

Treatment of severe, acute bleeding can be delivered in the following ways:

  • Endoscopy
  • Angiography
  • Surgery

Endoscopy

The most commonly utilized method doctors use to establish the location and severity of bleeding. This method allows medications to be injected into actively bleeding ulcers or blood vessels. Another option employs various ligatures or clips applied to arrest acute bleeding. For certain lesions, cautery devices and lasers are also options.

Bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract also may be slow and insidious. Sometimes, chemical tests of the stool indicate a slow and subtle loss of blood.

People undergoing gastrointestinal bleeding may experience:

  • No symptoms
  • Symptoms of anemia
  • Changes in stool color indicating blood loss, which may be intermittent or not seen at all.

Tests

All instances of blood loss from the GI tract warrant appropriate investigation. Most commonly, the upper intestines or colon are investigated with endoscopes to ascertain the cause of bleeding. Occult traces of blood in the stool may be a sign of colon polyps or colon cancer.

At times, patients may have recurrent gastrointestinal bleeding not diagnosed with standard endoscopic procedures.

Cleveland Clinic physicians employ specialized techniques for diagnosis such as:

  • Enteroscopy with dedicated, long enteroscopes
  • A video capsule swallowed by the patient, which provides vivid pictures of the entire gastrointestinal tract.

These special devices can provide an accurate diagnosis without exposing patients to the risks of surgery.