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Gastrointestinal bleeding

  • Definition

    Gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding refers to any bleeding that starts in the gastrointestinal tract.

    Bleeding may come from any site along the GI tract, but is often divided into:

    • Upper GI bleeding: The upper GI tract includes the esophagus (the tube from the mouth to the stomach), stomach, and first part of the small intestine.
    • Lower GI bleeding: The lower GI tract includes much of the small intestine, large intestine or bowels, rectum, and anus.

    Alternative Names

    Lower GI bleeding; GI bleeding; Upper GI bleeding

    The amount of GI bleeding may be so small that it can only be detected on a lab test such as the fecal occult blood test. Other signs of GI bleeding include:
    • Dark, tarry stools
    • Larger amounts of blood passed from the rectum
    • Small amounts of blood in the toilet bowl, on toilet paper, or in streaks on stool (feces)
    • Vomiting blood

    Massive bleeding from the GI tract can be dangerous. However, even very small amounts of bleeding that occur over a long period of time can lead to problems such as anemia or low blood counts.

    Once a bleeding site is found, many therapies are available to stop the bleeding or treat the cause.

    Common Causes

    GI bleeding may be due to conditions that are not serious, including:

    • Anal fissure
    • Hemorrhoids

    However, GI bleeding may also be a sign of more serious diseases and conditions, such as the following cancers of the GI tract:

    • Cancer of the colon
    • Cancer of the small intestine
    • Cancer of the stomach
    • Intestinal polyps (a pre-cancerous condition)

    Other possible causes of GI bleeding include:

    • Abnormal blood vessels in the lining of the intestines (also called angiodysplasias)
    • Bleeding diverticulum, or diverticulosis
    • Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis
    • Esophageal varices
    • Esophagitis
    • Gastric (stomach) ulcer
    • Intussusception (bowel telescoped on itself)
    • Mallory-Weiss tear
    • Meckel's diverticulum
    • Radiation injury to the bowel