When to See a Doctor for Blood in Stool
Blood in your stool may seem alarming, but most of the time there is no reason to worry. However, there are situations when bright red blood in stool or darker, older blood could be a sign of something serious and it’s best to see your doctor to be assessed. Here are some of the causes of blood in stool and when pooping blood could be a medical emergency.
Your gastrointestinal (GI) tract runs from your mouth to your rectum. Any blood in your GI tract will eventually leave your body through your stool (bowel movements). When the bleeding occurs higher up in the GI tract, it takes a while for the metabolized blood to be expelled, so the blood is dark or even black. This is called melena or tarry stool. Blood from your GI tract closer to your rectum is fresher, so it is more likely to look bright red or maroon.
There are many conditions that could cause blood in the stool, but the most common ones are hemorrhoids and anal fissures, small tears in the lining of the anus. Other common causes of bleeding in the lower part of your GI tract include:
Polyps, small growths on the intestinal wall
Diverticulitis, pouches along the intestinal wall
Rectal prolapse, a small section of the rectal wall protrudes from the anus
Some of the more common causes of bleeding from the upper GI tract include:
Enlarged veins in the esophagus (esophageal varices) or the stomach (stomach varices)
Trauma in the esophagus
Gastritis, inflammation of the stomach lining
Gastroenteritis, inflammation of the stomach and intestines
If you know the blood in your stool is from hemorrhoids, helping the hemorrhoids heal will stop the bleeding. This includes:
Not straining when moving your bowels
Using moistened, not dry, toilet tissue to clean following a bowel movement
Sitting in warm water (tub or sitz bath) for 15 minutes after each bowel movement
Increasing fiber in your diet
Drinking more water or other fluids
Considering taking a daily over-the-counter stool softener
Unless you know the blood in your stool is coming from hemorrhoids and the bleeding is not continuous nor does it cause any faintness or weakness, all signs of rectal bleeding, including bloody mucus in stool, should be reported to your doctor.
Your doctor will need to examine you and determine if you are passing fresh (red) blood or old (dark or tarry) blood. The amount of blood you are passing is also important. Other things your doctor will ask about are how long you’ve been passing blood and if you have any other symptoms or are otherwise feeling unwell.
Rectal bleeding isn’t generally an emergency, but there are some situations when people must seek immediate medical help or call 911. Do this if you have blood in your stool and you have any of these other signs:
Severe abdominal pain or cramping
Less urination than usual
Unless you go to an emergency room for evaluation, the first doctor you would see for assessment is your family doctor or primary care physician. After examining you and listening to your history, your doctor may recommend tests or refer you to a gastroenterologist or GI specialist. Gastroenterologists specialize in conditions and diseases that affect your GI tract. If surgery is necessary, you will be referred to a colorectal surgeon. Check with your insurance company to see if you need a referral from your primary doctor before seeing a specialist.
Blood in your stool is often the result of hemorrhoids, but it can also be a sign of something more serious. The only way to determine this is by seeing your doctor. Don’t be shy about talking about blood in your stool or providing a sample when requested. This is essential for your doctor to be able to diagnose your condition and develop the right treatment plan.