Rectal Bleeding (Blood in Stool, Hematochezia)
Symptom Checker: Symptoms & Signs Index
Medical Author: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Blood in the stool can be bright red, maroon in
color, black and tarry, or occult (not visible to the naked eye). Causes of
blood in the stool range from harmless, annoying conditions of the gastrointestinal
tract such as hemorrhoids to serious conditions such as cancer. Blood in the
stool should be evaluated by a health-care professional.
Rectal bleeding (known medically as hematochezia) refers to passage of bright red blood from the anus, often mixed with stool and/or blood clots. Most rectal bleeding comes from the colon, rectum, or anus. The color of the blood during rectal bleeding often depends on the location of the bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract. Generally, the closer the bleeding site is to the anus, the blood will be a brighter red. Thus, bleeding from the anus, rectum, and the sigmoid colon tend to be bright red, whereas bleeding from the transverse colon and the right colon (transverse and right colon are several feet away from the anus) tend to be dark red or maroon colored.
In some patients, bleeding can be black and "tarry" (sticky) and foul smelling. The black, smelly, and tarry stool is called melena. Melena occurs when the blood is in the colon long enough for the bacteria in the colon to break it down into chemicals (hematin) that are black. Therefore, melena usually signifies bleeding is from the upper gastrointestinal tract (for example, bleeding from ulcers in the stomach or the duodenum or from the small intestine) because the blood usually is in the gastrointestinal tract for a longer period of time before it exits the body. Sometimes melena may occur with bleeding from the right colon. On the other hand, blood from the sigmoid colon and the rectum usually does not stay in the colon long enough for the bacteria to turn it black. Rarely, massive bleeding from the right colon, from the small intestine, or from ulcers of the stomach or duodenum can cause rapid transit of the blood through the gastrointestinal tract and result in bright red rectal bleeding. In these situations, the blood is moving through the colon so rapidly that there is not enough time for the bacteria to turn the blood black.
Sometimes, bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract can be too slow to cause either rectal bleeding or melena. In these patients, bleeding is occult (not visible to the naked eye). The blood is found only by testing the stool for blood (fecal occult blood testing) in the laboratory. Occult bleeding has many of the same causes as rectal bleeding and may result in the same symptoms as rectal bleeding. It is often associated with anemia that is due to loss of iron along with the blood (iron deficiency anemia).
Health concern on your mind? Visit the Symptom Checker.
Longo, D.L., et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 18th ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2011.
Causes of Rectal Bleeding
In This ArticleAnal Cancer Article
- Anal cancer facts*
- What is anal cancer?
- What are the risk factors for anal cancer?
- What are anal cancer symptoms and signs?
- How is anal cancer diagnosed?
- What affects the prognosis of anal cancer?
- How is the staging of anal cancer determined?
- What is recurrent anal cancer?
- What is the treatment for anal cancer?
- How does staging affect the treatment of anal cancer?
- What are the treatment options for recurrent anal cancer?
- Where can I find more information about anal cancer?
In This ArticleAnal Fissure Article
- Anal fissures facts
- What are anal fissures?
- What causes anal fissures?
- What are the symptoms of anal fissures?
- How are anal fissures diagnosed and evaluated?
- What is the treatment for anal fissures?
- General treatment and home remedies for anal fissures
- Prescription medications for anal fissures
- Surgical treatment for anal fissures
- Personal observation
In This ArticleColon Cancer Article
- Colon cancer facts
- What is cancer?
- What is cancer of the colon and rectum?
- What are the causes of colon cancer?
- What are the symptoms of colon cancer?
- What tests can be done to detect colon cancer?
- How can colon cancer be prevented?
- What are the treatments and survival for colon cancer?
- What is the follow-up care for colon cancer?
- What does the future hold for patients with colorectal cancer?
In This ArticleColon Polyps Article
- Colon polyp facts
- What are colon polyps?
- What do colon polyps look like (pictures)?
- What are the types of colon polyps?
- How big are colon polyps?
- What are the signs and symptoms of colon polyps?
- How are colon polyps diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for colon polyps?
- How should patients with colon polyps be followed?
- How is screening for colon polyps done?
- Are all colon cancers associated with polyps?
- Can colon polyps be prevented?
- How is genetic testing used in patients with colon polyps?
In This ArticleCrohn's Disease Article
- Crohn's disease facts
- What is Crohn's disease?
- What causes Crohn's disease?
- How does Crohn's disease affect the intestines?
- How is Crohn's disease different from ulcerative colitis?
- What are the symptoms of Crohn's disease?
- What are the complications of Crohn's disease?
- How is Crohn's disease diagnosed?
- How is Crohn's disease treated?
- Crohn's Disease Medications
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- 5-ASA (mesalamine) oral medications
- 5-ASA rectal medications (Rowasa, Canasa)
- Budesonide (Entocort EC)
- Antibiotics for Crohn's disease
- Immuno-modulator medications
- Azathioprine (Imuran) and 6-mercaptopurine (6-MP, Purinethol)
- Infliximab (Remicade)
- Adalimumab (Humira)
- Certolizumab pegol (Cimzia)
- Natalizumab (Tysabri)
- Methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall)
- Surgery in Crohn's disease
- Are there any recommendations for diet, supplementation, or vaccinations for Crohn's disease?
Diverticulitis (Diverticulosis, Diverticular Disease) Diverticulitis is a condition in which diverticuli in the colon rupture. The rupture results in infection in the tissues that...learn more »In This ArticleDiverticulitis (Diverticulosis, Diverticular Disease) Article
- Diverticulosis and diverticulitis facts
- What is diverticulosis?
- What is diverticulitis?
- What causes diverticula and how do diverticula form?
- What are diverticulitis symptoms?
- Is there a special diet or digestive supplement that can treat or prevent diverticulitis symptoms?
- What are the more serious complications of diverticulitis?
- How are the diagnosis of diverticulitis and diverticulosis made?
- What is the treatment for diverticulitis and diverticulosis?
- Medical treatment of diverticulitis and diverticulosis
- Surgical treatment for diverticulitis
In This ArticleHelicobacter Pylori (H pylori) Article
- Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) facts
- What is Helicobacter pylori?
- What does H. pylori cause in humans?
- What are the symptoms of H. pylori infections?
- Is H. pylori contagious?
- How is H. pylori infection diagnosed?
- Why treat H. pylori?
- What is the treatment for H. pylori?
- Who should receive treatment for H. pylori?
- Can H. pylori infections be prevented?
- What is the prognosis for H. pylori infections?
In This ArticleHemorrhoids Article
- Definition of hemorrhoid
- What causes hemorrhoids?
- What are the signs and symptoms of a hemorrhoid?
- What does a hemorrhoid look like?
- How is the diagnosis of hemorrhoids made?
- How are hemorrhoids treated?
- OTC medications and home remedies for hemorrhoids
- Non-surgical approaches
- Hemorrhoid surgery
- What is the prognosis for hemorrhoids?
In This ArticleIdiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP) Article
- Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP) facts
- What is idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)?
- What are the types of idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura?
- What are the causes of idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)?
- What are the risk factors for idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)?
- What are the symptoms and signs for idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)?
- How is idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura diagnosed (ITP)?
- What are the treatments for idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)?
- How can idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura be prevented (ITP)?
- Living with idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)
- What is the outlook for idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)?
- What are other names for idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)?
In This ArticleInternal Bleeding Article
- Internal bleeding facts
- What is internal bleeding?
- What causes internal bleeding?
- What are the signs and symptoms of internal bleeding?
- How is internal bleeding diagnosed?
- How is internal bleeding treated?
- What are the complications of internal bleeding?
In This ArticleIs C. diff (Clostridium difficile) Contagious? Article
- What is C. diff (Clostridium difficile)?
- Is C. diff (Clostridium difficile) contagious?
- How do I know if I have an infection caused by C. diff?
- How does C diff spread?
- How will I know if I am no longer contagious for C. diff?
- When should I seek medical care for C. diff?
In This ArticleIs H. pylori Contagious? Article
- What is H. pylori?
- Is H. pylori contagious?
- How long before I know I am infected with H. pylori?
- What are the symptoms of H. pylori?
- How are H. pylori bacteria spread?
- When should I seek medical care for an H. pylori infection?
- Are there home remedies or cures for H. pylori infection?
- How will I know if or others or I are no longer contagious for H. pylori?
In This ArticlePeptic Ulcer Article
- Peptic ulcer facts
- What is a peptic ulcer?
- What causes of peptic ulcers?
- What are symptoms of peptic ulcer?
- How are peptic ulcers diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for peptic ulcers?
- What are the complications of peptic ulcer?
- Peptic ulcer summary
In This ArticleStomach Cancer Article
- Stomach cancer facts*
- What is the stomach?
- What is cancer, and how does stomach cancer spread?
- What are risk factors and causes of stomach cancer?
- What are symptoms of stomach cancer?
- How is stomach cancer diagnosed?
- How is staging determined?
- What is the treatment for stomach cancer?
- Radiation therapy
- How do I go about getting a second opinion?
- What are some of the nutritional concerns of stomach cancer patients?
- What are treatment options for cancer that blocks the digestive tract?
- What follow-up care is necessary for stomach cancer patients? What about complementary and alternative medicine?
- What support is there for cancer patients?
- How can I take part in clinical trials for stomach cancer?
In This ArticleYellow Fever Article
- Yellow fever facts
- What is yellow fever? What is the history of yellow fever?
- What causes yellow fever?
- How is yellow fever transmitted?
- What areas are high risk for contracting yellow fever?
- What is the incubation period for yellow fever?
- Is yellow fever contagious? How long is the contagious period for yellow fever?
- What are yellow fever symptoms and signs?
- How is yellow fever diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for yellow fever?
- How long does yellow fever last?
- What is the prognosis for people with yellow fever?
- Is it possible to prevent yellow fever?
- What are the side effects of the yellow fever vaccine?
- Where can people get more information on yellow fever?
Other Causes of Rectal Bleeding
- Esophageal Varices
Examples of Medications for Rectal Bleeding
- hydrocortisone, rectal suppository, enema, foam, Cortifoam, Anusol-HC, Anucort-HC, Proctocort
Symptoms & Signs A-Z List
Get the latest treatment options.