When You Have Gastrointestinal (GI) Bleeding
Blood in your vomit or stool can be a
sign of gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding. GI bleeding can be scary. But the cause may
serious. You should always see a doctor if you have GI bleeding.
The GI tract is the path through
which food travels in the body. Food passes from the mouth down the esophagus. This
tube from the mouth to the stomach. Food starts to break down in the stomach. It then
through the duodenum
, the first part
of the small intestine
. Nutrients are
absorbed as food travels through the small intestine. What is left passes into the
(large intestine) as waste. The colon removes water from the waste. Waste continues
the colon to the rectum (where stool is stored). Waste then leaves the body through
. The upper GI tract is from
the mouth through the duodenum. The lower GI tract is from the end of the duodenum
Causes of GI bleeding
GI bleeding can be caused by many
different problems. Some of the more common causes include:
Swollen veins in the anus
Swollen veins in the
Sore on the lining of the GI
Cuts or scrapes in the mouth
Infection caused by germs
such as bacteria or parasites
Food allergies, such as milk
allergy in young children
aspirin, blood thinners, and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such
Inflammation of the GI tract
(gastritis or esophagitis)
Colitis (Crohn's disease or
Cancer (tumors or polyps)
Abnormal pouches in the colon
Tears in the esophagus or
Abnormal blood vessels in the
GI tract (angiodysplasia)
Diagnosing the cause of blood in
If blood is coming out in your
stool, you may have a lower GI tract problem or a very fast upper GI tract bleed.
Bleeding from the GI tract can be bright red. Or it may look dark and tarry. Tests
also find blood in your stool that can’t be seen with the eye (occult blood). To find
out the cause, tests that may be ordered include:
Blood tests. A blood sample is taken and sent to a lab
Hemoccult test. Checks a stool sample for blood.
Stool culture. Checks a stool sample for bacteria or
X-ray, ultrasound, nuclear scan, or CT scan. Imaging
tests that take pictures of the digestive tract.
Colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy. This test uses a flexible
tube with a tiny camera. The tube is inserted through your anus into your rectum
to see the inside of your colon. Your provider can also take a tiny tissue sample
(biopsy) and treat a bleeding source
Capsule endoscopy. This test
uses a tiny camera that is swallowed, passes through the intestine, and takes
pictures of the small intestine that is more difficult to reach with scopes.
Diagnosing the cause of blood in
If you are vomiting blood or
something that looks like coffee grounds, you may have an upper GI tract problem.
find the cause, tests that may be done include:
Upper endoscopy. A flexible
tube with a tiny camera is inserted through your mouth and throat to see inside
your upper GI tract. This lets your provider take a tiny tissue sample (biopsy)
and treat a bleeding source.
Nasogastric lavage. The
healthcare provider may withdraw some of the fluid in the stomach to test it for
bleeding. This can sometimes tell if you have upper GI or lower GI bleeding.
X-ray, ultrasound, nuclear scan,
or CT scan.
Imaging tests that take pictures of your digestive tract.
Upper GI series. X-rays of
the upper part of your GI tract taken after swallowing a contrast drink. .
Enteroscopy. This sends a
flexible tube or a small, swallowed capsule camera into your small intestine.
When to call your healthcare provider
Call your healthcare provider right
away if you have any of the following:
38.0°) or higher
Signs of fluid loss
(dehydration). These include a dry, sticky mouth, decreased urine output, and very
Belly (abdominal) pain
911, or get medical care right away
if any of
the following occur: