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What is rectal bleeding?

Rectal bleeding often reveals itself as bright red blood on the toilet paper—usually after a bowel movement—or by turning the toilet bowl water red. Rectal bleeding can also present as extremely dark stool, 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 indicates 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. There is also a test, called a Hemoccult® test that can be done in a doctor’s office.

What are the symptoms associated with rectal bleeding?

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