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All About Gastrointestinal Bleeding

Doctorpedia Editorial Team Doctorpedia Editorial Team April 25, 2021
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

Gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding means that bleeding is occurring somewhere along the route food takes through your body, and it is never a good thing. Noticing signs of gastrointestinal bleeding can be disconcerting at first, so it’s important to recognize what you are seeing and to know what to do about it. 

 

What Gastrointestinal Bleeding Looks Like

 

Because it happens inside your digestive tract, there will be no visible evidence of GI bleeding at first. You may notice dark or tarry stools or fresh blood in the vomit, this can suggest that there is bleeding in the upper GI tract. You may also see red or maroon blood in the stool, suggesting bleeding from a lower GI source. Someone with GI bleeding may also feel short of breath or lightheaded and experience internal pain or symptoms of shock, depending on the degree of bleeding that occurs. 

 

What To Do About GI Bleeding 

 

Do not attempt to treat GI bleeding with over-the-counter medication such as painkillers or assume that your body will heal itself. It is a potentially life-threatening condition that requires professional medical attention; if you begin to notice increasing amounts of blood or frequency of bleeding, call for emergency medical assistance.

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 See your doctor to discuss any ongoing symptoms of bleeding that my be less severe. Keep in mind that in many cases, GI bleeding is not a disease of its own, but rather a symptom of another problem; your doctor may prescribe one treatment for the bleeding and another for the underlying disease. Make sure to arrive at your appointment with any relevant background information, such as medical history or any medications you may have taken recently. 

 

Possible Causes of GI Bleeding

 

Different parts of your digestive tract have different risk factors for internal bleeding. Broadly speaking, they are separated into the upper and lower digestive tract–from the mouth to the stomach is the upper tract and the intestines are the lower tract. Upper GI bleeding can stem from ulcers in the stomach lining or varices (enlarged veins) in the esophagus. 

 

Lower GI bleeding is often caused by many conditions. Colorectal cancer must be ruled out as a cause, but other causes such as colitis, an inflammation of the colon, can occur. This can be due to  infection, inflammatory conditions (such as Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s disease), a bleeding diverticulum (pocket in the colon) or reduction of blood flow to the colon. You may also find bleeding to be the result of hemorrhoids or anal fissures caused by hard stools or constipation.

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Diagnosis and Treatment

 

To diagnose GI bleeding correctly, doctors may use any of several procedures to inspect the actual sight of the bleeding. These included Endoscopy procedures, in which a narrow tube containing a camera is inserted into the body (Upper Endoscopy and/or Colonoscopy), and various scans to try and locate the source of the blood. These methods can be used alone, but your doctor might elect to use them in combination for a more reliable diagnosis. 

 

The correct treatment will differ depending on the severity of the bleeding discovered. The doctor may use the endoscope to deliver direct therapy  hoping to stop the bleeding site during the procedure . In more serious cases, a band or clip may be applied to hold the vein closed or a heat probe or laser may be used to cauterize the bleeding for more immediate results. 

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