Gastrointestinal Bleeding

ExitCare ImageGastrointestinal (GI) bleeding means there is bleeding somewhere along the digestive tract, between the mouth and anus.


There are many different problems that can cause GI bleeding. Possible causes include:

  • Esophagitis. This is inflammation, irritation, or swelling of the esophagus.

  • Hemorrhoids. These are veins that are full of blood (engorged) in the rectum. They cause pain, inflammation, and may bleed.

  • Anal fissures. These are areas of painful tearing which may bleed. They are often caused by passing hard stool.

  • Diverticulosis. These are pouches that form on the colon over time, with age, and may bleed significantly.

  • Diverticulitis. This is inflammation in areas with diverticulosis. It can cause pain, fever, and bloody stools, although bleeding is rare.

  • Polyps and cancer. Colon cancer often starts out as precancerous polyps.

  • Gastritis and ulcers. Bleeding from the upper gastrointestinal tract (near the stomach) may travel through the intestines and produce black, sometimes tarry, often bad smelling stools. In certain cases, if the bleeding is fast enough, the stools may not be black, but red. This condition may be life-threatening.


  • Vomiting bright red blood or material that looks like coffee grounds.

  • Bloody, black, or tarry stools.


Your caregiver may diagnose your condition by taking your history and performing a physical exam. More tests may be needed, including:

  • X-rays and other imaging tests.

  • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD). This test uses a flexible, lighted tube to look at your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine.

  • Colonoscopy. This test uses a flexible, lighted tube to look at your colon.


Treatment depends on the cause of your bleeding.

  • For bleeding from the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, or colon, the caregiver doing your EGD or colonoscopy may be able to stop the bleeding as part of the procedure.

  • Inflammation or infection of the colon can be treated with medicines.

  • Many rectal problems can be treated with creams, suppositories, or warm baths.

  • Surgery is sometimes needed.

  • Blood transfusions are sometimes needed if you have lost a lot of blood.

If bleeding is slow, you may be allowed to go home. If there is a lot of bleeding, you will need to stay in the hospital for observation.


  • Take any medicines exactly as prescribed.

  • Keep your stools soft by eating foods that are high in fiber. These foods include whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Prunes (1 to 3 a day) work well for many people.

  • Drink enough fluids to keep your urine clear or pale yellow.


  • Your bleeding increases.

  • You feel lightheaded, weak, or you faint.

  • You have severe cramps in your back or abdomen.

  • You pass large blood clots in your stool.

  • Your problems are getting worse.


  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.