Maybe you noticed bloody toilet paper or the water in the toilet bowl turn red after your bowel movement. It doesn’t matter how it came to your attention, discovering bright red blood in your stool can be alarming. But don’t panic just yet, because it isn’t necessarily something serious.
Bleeding can occur anywhere along the digestive, or gastrointestinal (GI), tract – from the mouth to the anus. The longer the blood has been present, the darker it will be by the time it is deposited in the toilet. Bright red blood usually indicates that it comes from a lower portion of the GI tract, either the colon, the rectum, or the anus itself.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common issues that result in bright red blood in the stool.
- Hemorrhoids. These swollen veins are found in the anus or rectum and are the most likely cause of bright red blood in the stool. They are often caused by common issues such as constipation or childbirth that put strain on the area. Hemorrhoids aren’t dangerous, but if they become bothersome, multiple treatment options are available.
- Anal fissures and abscesses. These abnormalities of the anus – fissures are tears and abscesses are pockets of infection – often cause bleeding. They should be treated by a physician to prevent further complications and to identify any underlying issues that have contributed to their development.
- Diverticular disease. This disease results from a weakening in the bowel wall, allowing small pouches, or diverticuli, to form. Often people live their entire lives with diverticuli and never have symptoms. But sometimes they can become inflamed and infected, leading to bleeding, fever, and pain.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD occurs when the small or large intestine becomes inflamed in autoimmune conditions like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. It can also result from poor blood flow, radiation, or infection. IBD can cause cramping, fever, and diarrhea in addition to bleeding.
- Polyps. These outgrowths of the lining of the colon are common findings and often cause no symptoms. When they grow larger, however, they can bleed. Polyps have the potential to be or become cancerous so your gastroenterologist will most likely remove them during a colonoscopy.
- Ulcers. Ulcers are erosions of the lining of the intestinal tract. Since ulcers usually occur in the stomach and small intestine, blood from them usually appears dark or tar-like by the time it reaches the stool. Occasionally an ulcer may erode an artery and more rapid bleeding can occur, appearing as bright red blood in the stool. This situation is a medical emergency and will likely be accompanied by symptoms such as light-headedness or even fainting.
For most people, bright red blood in the stool doesn’t mean a terrible disease is lurking in the shadows. When it does turn out to be a more serious condition such as diverticulitis or even colorectal cancer, good treatments are available. This is why it is so important to see your doctor if you notice blood in your stool. The sooner you begin treatment, the better the opportunity to prevent disease from advancing or creating complications.