Gastrointestinal Bleeding

What is Gastrointestinal Bleeding?

Bleeding that occurs in the esophagus, stomach, intestines, rectum, or anus (GI tract) is referred to as gastrointestinal bleeding. Often the result of a preexisting condition or other internal issue, GI bleeding can have many potential causes.

What are the Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Bleeding?

Presented symptoms will vary depending on the specific location of the bleeding within the gastrointestinal tract. Bleeding within the GI tract isn’t always noticeable without testing to confirm it. Possible signs of GI bleeding include blood in vomit with upper GI tract bleeding and blood in stool with lower GI tract bleeding.

Causes

Obscure GI Bleeding

If the cause of GI bleeding cannot be determined from initial testing, it’s referred to as obscure GI bleeding. This type of gastrointestinal bleeding often occurs in the small intestine and other areas along the GI tract where detection is difficult.

Gastrointestinal Bleeding Causes

Gastrointestinal bleeding can be caused by many conditions. Your doctor can attempt to find the source of your bleeding to determine the cause. Here are some possible causes of gastrointestinal bleeding.

Upper GI bleeding is commonly caused by peptic ulcers. These are open wounds that occur in the stomach or duodenum lining. Peptic ulcers usually occur as result of an infection caused by H. pylori bacteria.

In addition, enlarged esophagus veins may tear and bleed due to a condition known as esophageal varices. Upper GI bleeding can also occur when the walls of the esophagus are torn.

One of the leading causes of lower gastrointestinal bleeding is colitis, a condition that occurs when the large intestine is inflamed. There are many causes of colitis, including food poisoning, Crohn’s disease (ulcerative colitis), parasites, and reduced flow of blood in the colon.

Another main cause of gastrointestinal bleeding is hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids are enlarged veins in the anus or rectum. They may rupture and bleed, leading to rectal bleeding.

Lower GI bleeding may also be caused by an anal fissure, which is damage to the anal sphincter, caused by hard stools or constipation.

How is Gastrointestinal Bleeding Treated?

Diagnosis involves determining the location of the bleeding. Treatment depends on the specific cause of GI bleeding. A thin device with a camera attached to it called an endoscope is often placed down the throat and along the upper portion of the GI tract to look for signs of bleeding. A colonoscopy may also be performed.

Treatment includes

  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to suppress stomach acid
  • Medications to clear blood and food residue from the stomach
  • Intravenous fluids or a blood transfusion if there is extreme blood loss
  • Surgery if there is an underlying cause not responding well to other treatments

The risk of experiencing gastrointestinal bleeding can sometimes be reduced by improving dietary habits. Patients who have experienced some type of GI bleeding should avoid alcoholic beverages and other possible irritants until the underlying cause is identified and treated.

Gastrointestinal Bleeding Prevention

Methods of preventing upper and lower GI bleeding rely on preventing the related symptoms. Eating right, working out lightly, and avoiding drinking and smoking can help encourage a healthy lifestyle.

Doctors also recommend the following vital health habits:

  • Drink lots of water
  • Prevent hemorrhoids by avoiding straining when in the middle of a bowel movement – consume fiber and use laxatives if necessary
  • Review your aspirin dosage with your physician before commencing treatment
  • After eating, stay upright for an hour at least, to prevent acid reflux
  • Have Polyps checked immediately. They may be a sign of colorectal cancer

If you have any signs of GI bleeding, get medical attention as soon as possible.

Resources
Last Reviewed:
September 21, 2016
Last Updated:
December 26, 2017