Rectal bleeding should be viewed as a symptom and not a disorder itself. Most rectal bleeding is associated with a condition that can be treated. Although the cause of the bleeding may not be serious, it is important to determine its source. Rectal bleeding can come in different forms such as tarry stool and bright red or maroon in color. Some rectal bleeding can be serious, so it is important to see your doctor.
Probably the most common cause of rectal bleeding is hemorrhoids, also known as piles. Hemorrhoids are enlarged blood vessels in the anal canal that rupture and produce bright red blood. These swollen veins can be located inside the anal canal (internal hemorrhoids) or on the outside (external hemorrhoids). While external hemorrhoids can cause pain, throbbing or burning, internal hemorrhoids are usually painless. Besides rectal bleeding, other common symptoms of hemorrhoids are pain, itching, lumps around the anus, painful bowel movement and leakage of feces.
Mild cases of hemorrhoids can be treated at home with over-the-counter medication. Topical gels, creams, cold compresses, sitz baths, oral pain relievers, and keeping the area clean and dry are all recommended methods to reduce the symptoms of hemorrhoids. Wearing cotton clothing and avoiding constricting garments also can help bring relief.
If you have a hard bowel movement, the stool can create small tears in the lining of the anus. This can be very painful and produce blood. An anal fissure is a tear in the lining of the anal canal. Other causes of anal fissures include constipation, diarrhea or childbirth. Besides rectal bleeding, common symptoms of anal fissures are itching in the anal area or a stinging/burning sensation during bowel movements.
There are two types of anal fissures: acute and chronic. Acute anal fissures usually clear up on their own after a few days or weeks, but deep anal fissures can remain problematic. An anal fissure that has not healed after 8 to 12 weeks is considered chronic. Occasionally, surgery is required to correct chronic fissures.
Sometimes, the colon will develop a small growth called a polyp. Most polyps are harmless, but some can develop into cancer. Polyps usually are not accompanied by symptoms, but rectal bleeding may occur. Along with rectal bleeding, common symptoms of colon cancer are:
- Change in bowel habits
- Unexplained weight loss
- Unexplained anemia
- Abdominal pain
The earliest sign of colon cancer may be bleeding, which may be intermittent. Screening for colon polyps and cancer is recommended in people over age 50 (earlier in those with risk factors such as a family history of colon cancer or polyps). Although there are several methods of colon screening, colonoscopy is the gold standard because it can both diagnose and prevent/treat colon cancer. Doctors can both discover and remove polyps during the procedure. Early detection and removal helps prevent colon polyps from developing into cancer.
Intestinal infection can result in inflammation, which can produce bloody diarrhea. There are many different viruses and bacteria that can cause intestinal infection. Contaminated food and poor hygiene are the most common ways that intestinal infection occurs. Other symptoms of intestinal infection, besides rectal bleeding, are loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea, headaches and skin rashes.
The most important reason to get treatment for an intestinal infection is to prevent dehydration. If you have experienced symptoms for more than three days, you should call your doctor. Prescribed medication may be necessary.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) causes chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. In people with IBD, the immune system attacks the lining of the intestines. This causes cramping, loose stool, bloody stool and fever. These disorders often are also accompanied by abdominal pain, weight loss and fatigue. No one knows the source of IBD and there is no cure. The most common types of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Crohn’s disease causes inflammation anywhere along the lining of the digestive tract, and it can also involve other parts of the body besides the digestive tract. Besides rectal bleeding, common symptoms of Crohn’s disease are abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea, weight loss and poor absorption of nutrients.
Ulcerative colitis causes inflammation and sores in the lining of the colon and rectum. Bloody diarrhea is a common symptom of ulcerative colitis.
IBD can range from uncomfortable to life-threatening. Doctors diagnose IBD with a colonoscopy, blood tests and specialized X-rays including a CT scan. There are medications that help control the symptoms, and these include steroids and medicines that suppress the immune response. When medications do not help, surgery may be necessary to remove the diseased parts of the digestive tract. Being under the care of a doctor is essential so the symptoms can be monitored and managed.
If you are experiencing rectal bleeding, do not attempt to diagnose yourself. Rectal bleeding can indicate a more serious condition that needs to be checked out immediately. Make an appointment with your doctor and bring a detailed list of symptoms with you, along with questions.