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GI Bleeding

What Is Bleeding in the Digestive Tract?

Bleeding in the digestive tract is a symptom of digestive problems rather than a disease itself. Bleeding can occur as the result of a number of different conditions, many of which are not life-threatening.Most causes of bleeding are related toconditions that can be cured or controlled, for example, hemorrhoids. And in some cases, eating certain foods can give the appearance of bleeding. The cause may not be serious, but it is important to rule out other possibilities.

When doctors talk about the digestive tract, they mean the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine or colon, rectum, and anus.Bleeding can come from one or more of these areas, i.e., from a small area such as an ulcer on the lining of the small intestine or from a large surface such as an inflammation of the lining of the colon. Bleeding can sometimes occur without your being able to notice it. This type of bleeding is called "occult" or hidden. Fortunately, there are simple tests for detecting occult blood in the stool.

How Common Is Bleeding in the Digestive Tract?

It is difficult to estimate the incidence of bleeding in the digestive tract. If bleeding hemorrhoids or "piles" are included, it is extremely common. Significant numbers of patients who bleed from the gastrointestinal tract have been found through the use of new methods to test the stool for occult blood. Many patients have abnormalities in the gas­trointestinal tract, such as ulcer disease or polyps, that can cause bleeding.Most patients with cancer involving the gas­trointestinal tract will. bleed either occultly or visibly at some time during the course of their illness.

What Are the Causes of Bleeding in the Digestive Tract?

There are many causes for bleeding in the digestive tract. The most common is probably hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids are enlarged veins in the anal area that can rupture and produce bright red blood that shows up in the toilet or on toilet paper. If red blood is seen, however, it is essential to rule out other causes of bleeding. The anal area may also be the site of "cuts" (fissures) in the lining, inflammation, or tumors.

Bleeding can come from an inflammation at the lower end of the esophagus caused by acid or bile. This condition is called "esophagitis" or inflammation of the esophagus. Sometimes a weak muscle at the junction of the esophagus and stomach can lead to esophagitis, Enlarged veins (varices) at the lower end of the esophagus may rupture and bleed massively. Cirrhosis of the liver is the most common cause of varices.

The stomach is a common site of bleeding. Alcohol, aspirin, aspirin-containing compounds, and various drugs (particularly those used for arthritis) can cause individual ulcers or diffuse inflammation (gastritis).  The stomach is often the site of ulcer disease.  Acute or chronic ulcers may enlarge and eat through a blood vessel, causing massive bleeding.  Also, patients suffering from burns, shock, head injuries, or cancer, or those who have undergone extensive surgery, may develop "stress ulcers."  Bleeding can occur from benign tumors or cancer, although these disorders do not usually cause massive bleeding.

The small intestine is not a comon source of bleeding, except for ulcers in the duodenum.  In adults, the most common cause of bleeding from the small intestine, other than duodenal ulcers, is Crohn's disease. This disorder results in an inflammation of the bowel wall.

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Disclaimer: Nothing found at this website should be construed as medical advice or treatment recommendations. For any symptoms you may have, you should see your family physician, gastroenterologist or colorectal surgeon.zz