Gastrointestinal Bleeding | Digestive Health Program | Loyola Medicine

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Gastrointestinal Bleeding

Overview and Facts about Gastrointestinal Bleeding

Gastrointestinal bleeding is a digestive health symptom that could point to a number of issues. It can occur in any part of your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, including your small intestine, large intestine, stomach, esophagus, anus, and rectum.

Depending on where the blood originates, a GI bleed will be classified as upper or lower.

GI bleeds can be small and barely noticeable or heavy and life-threatening. Many times, the blood in your stool will not be noticeable; instead, it might only be observed under a microscope.

Signs and Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Bleeding

The first and most obvious symptom of a GI bleed is blood in the stool. If the bleeding is coming from the lower GI tract, the blood might be red. However, if the bleeding originated from the upper GI tract, it might appear as black, tarry stools.

Blood can also appear in the vomit during an upper GI bleed.

Other symptoms that you might have during gastrointestinal bleeding include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Pale skin
  • Shortness of breath

Causes and Risk Factors of Gastrointestinal Bleeding

Many different diseases, syndromes, and injuries can cause gastrointestinal bleeding.

If your bleeding is happening in the upper GI tract, it might be because of:

  • Bleeding in the stomach, otherwise known as gastritis
  • Certain cancers
  • Inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract
  • Peptic ulcers

The most probable causes of a bleed in the lower GI tract include:

Tests and Diagnosis of Gastrointestinal Bleeding

Your doctor will first perform a physical exam to see if the bleeding can be spotted along with any obvious causes. If a cause cannot be verified, the following procedures may be performed:

  • Angiography
  • Balloon-assisted enteroscopy
  • Capsule endoscopy
  • Colonoscopy
  • CT or MR enterography
  • Upper endoscopy

Treatment and Care for Gastrointestinal Bleeding

Treatment depends on the source of the GI bleeding. You might be hospitalized while waiting for a procedure so medical professionals can monitor your blood pressure and administer blood transfusions, if necessary. Common treatments include:

  • Angiography with embolization to cut off blood supply to the area of bleeding
  • Endoscopic band ligation to remove hemorrhoids
  • Endoscopic clips to tie off bleeding blood vessels
  • Endoscopic injections to stop bleeding at the source
  • Endoscopic thermal probe to stop bleeding ulcers
  • Surgery to remove the area that is bleeding