Bleeding in the Digestive Tract Causes
Bleeding in the Digestive Tract Diagnosis and Treatment

How is bleeding in the digestive tract diagnosed?
The first step in diagnosing bleeding in the digestive tract is locating the site of the bleeding. The doctor will take the patient's complete medical history and perform a physical examination. Symptoms such as changes in bowel habits, black or red stools, and pain or tenderness in the abdomen may tell the doctor which area of the digestive tract is bleeding.

The doctor may need to test the stool for blood. Iron supplements, bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol), or certain foods such as beets can give the stool the same appearance as bleeding from the digestive tract. Stool tests can also show bleeding that is not visible to the patient. A blood test can help determine the extent of the bleeding and whether the patient is anemic.

Endoscopy is the most common method for finding the source of bleeding in the digestive tract. An endoscope is a flexible tube with a small camera on the end. The doctor inserts the endoscope through the patient's mouth to view the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum.  An endoscope can also be inserted through the rectum to view the colon. The doctor can use the endoscope to do a biopsy, which involves collecting small samples of tissue for examination with a microscope.

Bleeding that cannot be found with endoscopy is called obscure bleeding. The doctor may repeat the endoscopy or use other procedures to find the cause of obscure bleeding.

Enteroscopy is an examination of the small intestine. Because traditional endoscopes cannot reach the small intestine, special endoscopes are used for enteroscopy.

How is bleeding in the digestive tract treated?
Endoscopy can be used to stop bleeding in the digestive tract. A doctor can insert tools through the endoscope to

  • inject chemicals into the bleeding site
  • treat the bleeding site and surrounding tissue with a heat probe, electric current, or laser
  • close affected blood vessels with a band or clip

Endoscopy does not always control bleeding. If endoscopy does not work, the patient may need other treatments or surgery to stop the bleeding.