This Might Be Why You're Seeing Blood In Your Poop + What To Do
Noticing blood in your stool can be concerning, and it's always important to get a proper diagnosis from your health care practitioner when this occurs. The reasons for bloody stool can range from moderate to serious, and the actual color of the blood may be a clue as to the cause.
Black vs. red blood
Blood in your stool can indicate an issue anywhere in your digestive system, and the color of the blood may help determine exactly where the bleeding is coming from.
For example, black-colored poop (also called melena) can indicate an issue in your upper digestive system. While the color change could be caused by certain dark-colored foods, it may also signal a more serious issue, like bleeding in the stomach, small intestine, or right side of the colon.
If the blood appears to be bright red or maroon (called hematochezia1), it is more likely caused by an issue in the colon. Because the colon is closer to the anus, the blood will come out fresh, which is why it maintains its bright red coloring.
5 causes of bloody stool.
One of the most common causes of rectal bleeding is hemorrhoids: swollen blood vessels around the anus. They can be external or internal, and may lead to bright red bleeding.
While hemorrhoids can be painful, uncomfortable, and sometimes itchy, they're usually no cause for alarm. Hemorrhoids can stem from straining during difficult bowel movements, pregnancy, or prolonged sitting.
What to do: Soaking in a warm bath may help reduce swelling and discomfort from hemorrhoids. Adding 1/2 cup of witch hazel to the bath water or wearing a witch-hazel-medicated pad on the area may also reduce swelling, due to the astringent properties2. Increasing your fiber intake can support digestive health, which may promote more regular bowel movements and less straining on the toilet. (Here: 25 high-fiber foods.)
Your entire digestive tract—starting at the mouth and ending with the anus—is lined with a thin layer of tissue, called mucosa. When the mucosa lining the anus develops small tears, they're called anal fissures3, and they may be the cause of bright red blood in your stool.
Like hemorrhoids, anal fissures can be caused by difficult bowel movements, when stool is too bulky or hard to pass through the colon easily. They are often compared to paper cuts or cracks from chapped lips.
What to do: To decrease the risk of developing an anal fissure, add foods that promote regularity to your diet, like high-fiber or fermented foods. If the fissures are causing pain, try taking a sitz bath (sitting in a shallow pool of water) to soothe and clean the area.
Diverticulitis is a common intestinal condition, which occurs when small pouches form in the wall of the colon and become infected or inflamed. Symptoms often include bloating, fever, nausea, tenderness in the stomach or intense abdominal pain. In rare cases, it may result in bright red bleeding from the rectum.
The condition can be either acute or chronic. The latter can lead to serious complications, which may require surgery, so it's critical to get a doctor's diagnosis if you think you may have diverticulitis or notice bleeding as a result.
What to do: Visit a primary care physician to find out if you have diverticulitis and whether or not you need surgery. To manage the pain, rest up and drink plenty of water. Once you're starting to feel better, add more fiber to the daily diet—this reduces the time it takes food to travel through the colon, which may lower the risk of developing an infection. There is also research suggesting that omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation4 for people concerned with diverticular disease.
Colitis or Crohn's disease
Colitis and Crohn's disease are two common forms of inflammatory bowel disease. Both can cause inflammation and may lead to ulcers in the digestive tract.
Ulcers, or open sores in the lining of the stomach or small intestine, are often caused by a bacterial infection. They can also develop from long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like Ibuprofen. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease can cause bloody diarrhea5, as well as stools that contain mucus or pus.
What to do: Visit a primary care physician or gastroenterologist to find out the best treatment plan for you. This may include limiting inflammatory foods, or whatever triggers your flare-ups. Research also suggests boswellia (or Indian frankincense) may help manage inflammatory bowel disease. One small study, published in the Annals of Gastroenterology, compared the effects of boswellia and a prescription medication used to treat Crohn's, ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome on patients diagnosed with Crohn's disease. They found boswellia to be equally as effective6, without some of the dangerous side effects of the medication.
Polyps or Cancer
Polyps are small masses of cells that can form in the colon. While anyone can develop colon polyps, people over the age of 50 are at a higher risk. Polyps are extremely common and usually harmless, but in some cases they can grow, bleed, and become cancerous (these polyps are called adenoma.)
Polyps are often found during a routine colonoscopy, but are sometimes suspected if a person experiences a change in stool color. Bleeding associated with colon cancer is often called occult bleeding, meaning it’s not seen with the naked eye, and can only be detected during cancer screening.
What to do: Schedule a colonoscopy or a checkup to discuss your concerns with a primary care physician or gastroenterologist.
Ajay Goel, Ph.D., is a professor and the director of Translational Genomics and Oncology, as well as the director of the Center for Gastrointestinal Research at the Baylor Scott & White Research Institute at Baylor University Medical Center. Goel is one of the top scientists in the world investigating botanical interventions and has dedicated over 20 years to cancer research.
As a research pioneer, Goel is a member of the American Association for Cancer Research and the American Gastroenterology Association. He is also on the international editorial boards of Gastroenterology, Clinical Cancer Research, Carcinogenesis, PLoS ONE, Digestive Diseases and Sciences, Scientific Reports, Epigenomics, Future Medicine, Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, and World Journal of Gastroenterology. Goel further serves on various grant funding committees for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and several international organizations.
In addition to a thriving career in medicine, Goel is a big supporter of the movement for more simple, natural foods and improved dietary practices. He also works privately with an organization in India to provide food, shelter, education, and care for orphaned children.