Bloody stools may indicate an upper or lower GI problem, and while not always serious, the issue should be properly assessed and diagnosed by a gastroenterologist. Here’s more on this common digestive system problem and how physicians discover the reasons for it.
Diagnosing Bloody Stools
When you see your primary care physician about bloody stools, most likely you’ll be referred to a gastroenterologist for a diagnosis and treatment. The gastroenterologist will conduct a series of steps to diagnose the problem. It will include a review of your symptoms, including any constipation, abdominal pain, or feeling of fullness after bowel movements. In general, bloody stools may be bright red, black (indicating “old” blood), or even tarry in color and consistency.
The GI specialist may palpate your abdomen and do a DRE, or digital rectal examination, to detect irregularities in the rectum, such as hemorrhoids or anal fissures (cracks in the anal/rectal tissue).
You may undergo a procedure called an endoscopy. This minimally invasive procedure involves inserting a lighted scope down the esophagus to detect irregularities in structure, polyps, ulcerations, cancer, or other indicators of disease. Alternatively, your gastroenterologist may recommend a camera endoscopy. With this procedure, you will swallow a tiny camera which, as it passes through the GI tract, sends pictures and data to the doctor. This test works well for suspected problems in the small intestine.
Endoscopies are well tolerated by most patients, and they give GI specialists a wealth of information about chronic and acute conditions affecting the digestive tract. Alternatively, doctors may opt for barium X-rays, an older method of detecting sites of bleeding, tumors, and other problems. CT scans with contrast dye may be used, too.
Another common procedure is a colonoscopy, in which a lighted scope is inserted through the rectum to examine the colon for polyps, ulcerations, cancer, and other indicators of disease.
Your doctor will choose the diagnostic test best for you. Patients who have bloody stools also need a complete blood count, or CBC blood test, to check for anemia, a side effect of bleeding in the digestive system.
Treatment of Bloody Stools
Treatment depends on your GI doctor’s diagnostic findings. Fortunately, problems such as hemorrhoids respond well to dietary changes, exercise, topical medications, and ligation procedures, as needed. Colon polyps may be removed, cauterized (heat treated), or eliminated with laser therapy by instruments inserted through the scope.
More serious issues that cause bloody stools are stomach ulcers, cancer, Crohn’s disease, and diverticulosis. These may require a combination of medication and surgery depending on the exact diagnosis.
California’s Premier Gastroenterology Practice
At inSite Digestive Health Care, our team of 65 board-certified and fellowship-trained physicians have years of experience and advanced knowledge of diseases and conditions of the digestive tract. If you have bloody stools, please don’t wait. Select from our list of 30 locations, and call us to book a consultation.
For instance, Dr. Nancy Ho practices out of our San Francisco location. Among her many skills are the diagnosis and treatment of bleeding issues.
If you prefer, you may request your appointment online by completing our patient form. We hope to see you soon!