Understanding Rectal Bleeding

Outline of human figure showing gastrointestinal (GI) tract including esophagus, stomach, duodenum, small intestine, large intestine (colon), sigmoid colon, rectum, and anus. Food is digested as it passes through GI tract. Solid waste leaves body through rectum.

Rectal bleeding is when blood passes through your rectum and anus. It can occur with or without a bowel movement. Rectal bleeding may be a sign of a serious problem in your rectum, colon, or upper GI tract. Call your doctor right away if you have any rectal bleeding.

Rectal Bleeding and GI Problems

The cause of rectal bleeding may be found in any region of the GI tract. The colon or rectum may be the site of your bleeding problem. Or, bleeding may be due to problems farther up the GI tract, such as in the small intestine, duodenum, or stomach.

Causes of Rectal Bleeding

  • Hemorrhoids (swollen veins in the rectum and anus)

  • Fissures (tears in or near the anus)

  • Diverticulosis (inflamed pockets in the colon wall)

  • Infection

  • Ischemia (low blood flow)

  • Radiation damage

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis)

  • Ulcers in the upper GI tract and inflammation of the large intestine

  • Abnormal tissue growths (tumors or polyps) in the GI tract

  • A bulging rectum (also called a rectal prolapse)

  • Abnormal blood vessels in the small intestine or in the colon

Common Symptoms

  • Rectal pain, itching, or soreness

  • Abdominal pain or epigastric pain

  • Minor occasional drops of blood that appear on the stool or toilet paper, to greater amounts of stool that appear black or tarry 

Rectal bleeding can also occur without pain.