Rectal bleeding is a symptom of many different conditions, including hemorrhoids, anal fissures, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and colorectal cancer. You may notice rectal bleeding on your toilet paper when you wipe or when you see blood in your stool. It’s important to contact a healthcare provider about rectal bleeding. Not all causes are serious, but some of them are.
Looking down into a toilet and seeing blood in your stool (poop) can be alarming. Your mind might go to many places as warning bells ring that something’s wrong. Rectal bleeding is a symptom of many different conditions, some more serious than others. It’s important to find out the cause of your rectal bleeding.
Some causes, like hemorrhoids, may not need treatment. But others, like colorectal cancer, need urgent care. Ulcers, anal fissures and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are other possible causes. A healthcare provider can help determine the cause of your hematochezia — the medical term for rectal bleeding or blood in your stool.
You might see or experience rectal bleeding in a few different ways, including:
When bleeding comes out from your anus (butthole), we call it rectal bleeding, but in fact, the bleeding could be coming from anywhere in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Your stomach, small intestine, colon, rectum and anus are all one continuous pathway, and all gastrointestinal bleeding comes out the same way.
When you have blood in your stool, it can look a few different ways. You may have bright red streaks of blood on your poop, or you might see blood clots or blood and mucus mixed in with it. Your stool could also look dark, black and tarry. The color of the blood you see may be a clue to where it’s coming from:
Sometimes, rectal bleeding isn’t visible to the naked eye and can only be seen through a microscope. This is called occult bleeding. You may discover this type of blood in your stool if you have a lab test done on a stool sample called a fecal occult blood test. It’s a screening test for colorectal cancer.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Not necessarily, but it could be. It’s a good idea to check with a healthcare provider any time you have rectal bleeding or blood in your stool. Some minor conditions might not need treatment, but sometimes they might. Rectal bleeding could also be a sign of a more serious condition that needs treatment.
Bright red blood in your stool might be more alarming because it suggests active bleeding. Darker blood usually suggests older bleeding that’s not active anymore. But darker blood in your stool can be deceiving. It doesn’t always mean the bleeding has stopped, only that it’s coming from someplace higher up.
Bleeding in your upper GI tract takes longer to travel through your body and out of your anus. As it travels, the digestive chemicals inside gradually turn it darker. Bright red blood comes from lower down. It could be from something relatively harmless, like a flesh wound. An upper GI bleed is less likely to be harmless.
It never hurts to check with a healthcare provider about blood in your stool, especially if:
There are many different reasons why you might experience hematochezia — rectal bleeding or blood in your stool. These causes vary from common and mild conditions to more severe and rare conditions that need immediate medical attention. Sometimes other symptoms can offer clues to the possible cause.
Common causes of rectal bleeding include:
Other possible causes include:
Yes, constipation and straining to poop can cause rectal bleeding. When you strain, you can cause conditions like hemorrhoids or anal fissures, which may bleed. Very hard stools may tear the skin inside your anus, causing bleeding. Treating your constipation can help prevent this from happening.
Children and babies can get hemorrhoids and anal fissures, too, from straining to poop. Anal fissures are the most common cause of rectal bleeding in children. Children also get infectious colitis. They’re less likely to have chronic diseases, like IBD, diverticulitis or colon cancer, which take time to develop.
Most of the causes of rectal bleeding are the same for a man, woman or any gender. Women and people AFAB can also get endometriosis. Rarely, endometriosis may cause rectal bleeding if it spreads to your lower bowel or rectum. The tissue may become inflamed and bleed during your menstrual cycle.
Certain foods can change the color of your poop. If you think you see blood in your stool, think back to what you recently ate. Beets, tomatoes, blackberries or red food coloring may look red or bloody when they come out in your poop. If you take iron supplements, these can make your stool look dark or black.
There are several ways your healthcare provider can evaluate rectal bleeding or blood in your stool to figure out the cause. They might start by asking you questions about the circumstances surrounding your rectal bleeding or the blood in your stool. This can help narrow down the possible causes.
They might ask:
Your answers to these questions can help your provider determine which medical tests to follow up with. Tests might include:
In most cases, treating rectal bleeding means treating the disease that’s causing it. The treatment will depend on the cause, which could be many things. If your rectal bleeding is from an anal fissure or a hemorrhoid that you can reach, you might be able to help treat it at home with topical ointments.
Depending on the cause, your rectal bleeding may stop on its own. If it stops and doesn’t come back, it probably won’t need further treatment. But you should always keep an eye on any rectal bleeding or blood in your stool. Notice if it happens more than once, or if you have any other symptoms with it.
It’s a good idea to reach out to your healthcare provider whenever you have rectal bleeding. It can be a symptom of a larger condition that needs treatment. If you have heavy bleeding or large blood clots in your stool, seek urgent care. If your poop looks black and tarry, you might have an upper GI bleed.
If you’re experiencing rectal bleeding, you and your healthcare provider will want to know why, and what to do about it. Your provider will work to determine the cause of your rectal bleeding and what kind of treatment you may need. As they go through their process, you might want to ask:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Bleeding evokes a special, primal kind of worry, especially when you can’t see where it’s coming from. It might feel hard to wait for a medical appointment to find out what your rectal bleeding means. Keep in mind, while there are many possible causes, the most common ones are easy to find and fix.
Don’t be embarrassed to talk to a healthcare provider about rectal bleeding or blood in your stool. These are important symptoms, and healthcare providers will want to know all about them. Answering their questions as fully and honestly as you can will help them determine the type of care you need.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/08/2023.
Learn more about our editorial process.