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Overview

Bleeding in the digestive tract is a symptom of a disease rather than a disease itself. A number of different conditions can cause bleeding. Most causes of bleeding are related to conditions that can be cured or controlled, such as ulcers or hemorrhoids. Some causes of bleeding may be life threatening.

Locating the source of bleeding is important. Different conditions cause bleeding in the upper digestive tract and the lower digestive tract. The upper digestive tract includes the esophagus, stomach, and upper portion of the small intestine, also called the duodenum. The lower digestive tract includes the lower portion of the small intestine; large intestine, which includes the colon and rectum; and anus.

What are the signs of bleeding in the digestive tract?
The signs of bleeding in the digestive tract depend on the site and severity of bleeding.

Signs of bleeding in the upper digestive tract include

  • Bright red blood in vomit
  • Vomit that looks like coffee grounds
  • Black or tarry stool
  • Dark blood mixed with stool
  • Stool mixed or coated with bright red blood

Signs of bleeding in the lower digestive tract include

  • Black or tarry stool
  • Dark blood mixed with stool
  • Stool mixed or coated with bright red blood

Sudden, severe bleeding is called acute bleeding. If acute bleeding occurs, symptoms may include

  • Weakness
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Crampy abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Paleness

A person with acute bleeding may go into shock, experiencing a rapid pulse, a drop in blood pressure, and difficulty producing urine.

Light bleeding that continues for a long time or starts and stops is called chronic bleeding. If bleeding is chronic, a person may notice that fatigue, lethargy, and shortness of breath develop over time. Chronic blood loss can also lead to anemia, a condition in which the blood's iron-rich substance, hemoglobin, is diminished.

A person may not notice a small amount of bleeding in the digestive tract. This type of bleeding is called occult bleeding. Simple tests can detect occult blood in the stool.