What is Rectal Bleeding?

Rectal bleeding generally refers to blood that passes out of the anus. While it is typically the result of a source of bleeding from the lower colon or rectum (the last few inches of the large intestine), it can also come from the upper GI tract, such as the stomach or small intestine. You will typically notice rectal bleeding on toilet paper, in the water of the toilet bowl, or in your stool. Arising as a result of a variety of digestive health issues, rectal bleeding can vary from being mild to severe, and can be a sign of both benign and serious conditions. This is why it is so important to meet with a gastroenterologist to determine the source and cause of the bleeding.

What are the Causes of Rectal Bleeding?

There are many reasons why you might experience rectal bleeding. Highly-pigmented, red foods can sometimes change the color of the stool and mimic rectal bleeding, as can certain medications and antibiotics. However, when rectal bleeding does occur, it can be caused by: 

  • Anal cancer
  • Anal fissure (tear in the skin of the anus)
  • Angiodysplasia (irregularities in the blood vessels close to the intestines)
  • Chronic constipation
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Diarrhea
  • Diverticulosis
  • Hard stools (in association with hemorrhoids and fissures)
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Ischemic colitis (colon inflammation caused by reduced blood flow)
  • Polyps
  • Proctitis (inflammation of the rectum and anus)
  • Radiation therapy
  • Rectal prolapse (a portion of the rectum protrudes through the anus)
  • Solitary rectal ulcer syndrome (a sore on the wall of the rectum)
  • Ulcerative colitis

Less common causes of rectal bleeding include blood-clotting disorders and allergic reactions to certain foods. Treatment for rectal bleeding depends on the cause of the bleed.


What are the Symptoms of Rectal Bleeding?

During rectal bleeding, the blood can range in color from bright red to a dark, almost black hue with the consistency of tar (known as melena). The color and consistency depends on where the blood is coming from within the intestines and what is causing the bleeding. Generally, the closer the source of the bleed is to the anus, the brighter red the blood will be. 

Patients should seek immediate medical attention if:

  • Bleeding is accompanied by severe abdominal pain or cramps
  • Bleeding is accompanied by pain in or around the anus
  • Constant or heavy bleeding occurs
  • Shortness of breath, dizziness, or chest pain occurs with rectal bleeding

How is Rectal Bleeding Diagnosed?

Following a physical exam that includes checking vitals and assessing the abdomen and anus, your DHC gastroenterologist may perform diagnostic tests to determine the source of the bleed.

These tests may include the following:

  • Angiography using a dye to find active bleeding sites
  • Anoscopy to examine the inside of the rectum (rectal vault)
  • Blood test to determine the extent of blood loss, clotting ability, and infection
  • Colonoscopy to examine the colon using a camera
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan to search for any diverticulitis or tumors
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy to view the rectum and lower portions of the colon
  • Nasogastric tube to check the stomach for bleeding

How is Rectal Bleeding Treated?

Fortunately, minor cases of rectal bleeding can usually be treated by addressing the source of the bleed. Rectal bleeding is often related to a larger issue, and once that condition is treated, the bleeding should stop. Treatment options for rectal bleeding will vary depending on the cause of bleeding. Some conditions, like anal fissures, can resolve over time or through the use of ointments. Other conditions may require diet and lifestyle modifications, surgery, or long-term treatment. Pay attention to your body – all causes of rectal bleeding should be addressed, and if you experience heavy and consistent rectal bleeding, contact your healthcare provider for immediate medical attention.

Care for Causes of Rectal Bleeding in NJ

If you are experiencing rectal bleeding, our board-certified physicians at DHC will determine the cause of the bleed and provide a treatment method that is tailored to your situation. With years of experience, our team is committed to delivering the highest quality gastroenterology care for each patient who comes to see us. Regardless of your individual circumstances, we will work closely with you to address your specific needs and answer any questions you may have. Please contact us to schedule an appointment at one of our offices in Hillsborough, Somerville, or Warren, NJ, or schedule a virtual telemedicine appointment today! 

Comprehensive Gastroenterology Care in Somerset County

Look no further than Digestive Healthcare Center for comprehensive gastroenterology care and services in Somerset County. At DHC, our doctors are highly skilled in diagnosing and treating a wide range of digestive health conditions, using the latest advancements in technology and minimally-invasive surgical techniques.