Finding blood in your stool is cause for alarm and understandably unnerving. Hemorrhoids are the most common cause of blood in your stool or toilet bowl, but when blood is mixed with the stool, there are a number of possible causes.
Bloody stool means there's some sort of injury or disorder somewhere in your digestive tract. The color of the blood is the best way to trace the source. Generally, the closer the source is to the anus, the brighter red it will be as the bacteria in your digestive system works to break down the blood as it passes through. As blood lingers in your digestive tract, it becomes darker, ranging from bright red to black.
Bright red blood suggests hemorrhoids or anal fissures, which are relatively minor and easily treated. If the blood is more maroon in color, the problem lies farther up the digestive tract. Polyps occasionally bleed, sometimes causing a maroon-colored stool, and requires immediate medical attention. Maroon-colored stools could also be caused by inflammatory bowel disease. A black, tarry stool (melena) could be a problem with your stomach or small intestines.
Large amounts of aspirin or anti-inflammatory drugs can cause blood in your stool, irritating the stomach and small intestine. Inflammatory bowel disease can also cause a bloody stool, but is usually accompanied by pain. Diverticulitis is another cause of bloody stools but diverticulitis produces a pronounced amount of bleeding.
If you have a bloody stool, it is imperative that you seek medical advice. A bloody stool could be a sign of gastrointestinal or rectal bleeding and needs prompt medical attention. Your doctor will first try to establish whether or not your condition is acute or chronic by asking how long you have been experiencing bloody stools.
How severe is it? Are there any other symptoms? Diarrhea/mucous could indicate Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, amebic dysentery or bacterial dysentery. Fever would imply chronic liver disease.
There are several foods and medicines that will cause dark or black stools such as iron pills, black licorice and blueberries. Reddish stools can be caused by tomatoes, beets and red peppers.
Eating foods rich in fiber helps reduce constipation, diverticulitis, hemorrhoids and colon cancer. Avoiding prolonged use of anti-inflammatory drugs can help reduce stomach irritation that causes ulcers. Consuming excess alcohol can irritate the lining of the esophagus and stomach. Smoking is linked to peptic ulcers and cancers of the GI tract.
Seek medical advice anytime you see blood in your stool.