Rectal Bleeding

What is rectal bleeding?

Rectal bleeding is often seen as bright red blood on toilet paper—usually after a bowel movement—or by turning the toilet bowl water red. Rectal bleeding can also be recognized in extremely dark stool (bowel movement), ranging in color from deep red/maroon to black, and sometimes appearing tar-like (melena).

The color of the blood can indicate where the bleeding is coming from:

  • Bright red blood usually means bleeding low in the colon or rectum.
  • Dark red or maroon blood usually indicates bleeding higher in the colon or the small bowel.
  • Melena usually means bleeding in the stomach, such as bleeding from ulcers.

Not all rectal bleeding is visible to the eye. In some cases, rectal bleeding can only be seen by looking at a stool sample through a microscope. A test called a Hemoccult® can be done in a doctor’s office.

What are the symptoms of rectal bleeding?

Symptoms usually develop quickly, and most causes are treatable and not serious. In some cases, rectal bleeding can be a symptom of a serious disease, such as colorectal cancer. Therefore, all rectal bleeding should be reported to the primary care physician. He or she can do a rectal examination or order tests like a colonoscopy to determine the cause of the bleeding or refer you to a specialist.

The symptoms of rectal bleeding may include:

  • Rectal pain and/or pressure.
  • Bright red blood in/on the stool, on underwear, and/or in the toilet.
  • Red, maroon or black stool color.
  • Stool that has a tar-like appearance.
  • Confusion.
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy.
  • Fainting.

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