Gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding refers to any bleeding that starts in the gastrointestinal tract.
Bleeding may come from any site along the GI tract, but is often divided into:
The amount of GI bleeding may be so small that it can only be detected on a lab test such as the fecal occult blood test. Other signs of GI bleeding include:
Massive bleeding from the GI tract can be dangerous. However, even very small amounts of bleeding that occur over a long period of time can lead to problems such as anemia or low blood counts.
Once a bleeding site is found, many therapies are available to stop the bleeding or treat the cause.
GI bleeding may be due to conditions that are not serious, including:
GI bleeding may also be a sign of more serious diseases and conditions. These may include cancers of the GI tract such as:
Other causes of GI bleeding may include:
There are home stool tests for microscopic blood that may be recommended for people with anemia or for colon cancer screening.
Call your doctor if:
Your doctor may discover GI bleeding during an exam at your office visit.
GI bleeding can be an emergency condition that requires immediate medical care. Treatment may involve:
Once your condition is stable, you will have a physical exam and a detailed exam of your abdomen. You will also be asked questions about your symptoms, including:
Tests that may be done include:
Lower GI bleeding; GI bleeding; Upper GI bleeding
Jensen DM. GI hemorrhage and occult GI bleeding. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 137.
Savides TJ, Jensen DM. Gastrointestinal bleeding. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 19.
Updated by: George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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