Gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding is bleeding in the digestive tract.
The digestive tract is divided into two sections. The upper digestive tract includes the:
The lower digestive tract includes the:
GI bleeding is a potentially serious symptom that requires care from your doctor.
GI bleeding is a symptom caused by many possible conditions.
Causes in the upper digestive tract may include:
Causes in the lower digestive tract may include:
Factors that may increase your chance of GI bleeding include:
Upper digestive tract bleeding symptoms may include:
Lower digestive tract bleeding symptoms may include:
It may be difficult to notice small amounts of blood in the stool. Your doctor can do tests to detect this.
Sometimes, bleeding can occur suddenly and be severe. You may notice symptoms like:
Bleeding that is light and occurs over a long period of time may make you feel tired and short of breath.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Tests may include:
Treatment will depend on the cause of the bleeding. Your doctor may switch your medications or stop certain ones if it is suspected as the cause of your GI bleeding. You may need to make some lifestyle changes.
Other treatments may include:
Your doctor may advise medications depending on your symptoms or the results of your tests. Examples include:
Some treatments are more effective with a combination of medications.
Endoscopy can also be used to stop bleeding. With an endoscope, your doctor can stop the bleeding by:
Angiography, which is also used as a diagnostic tool, can control bleeding. The doctor can use angiography with other tools to locate the bleeding and inject medications or other materials into the blood vessels to control it.
If other treatment options fail, your doctor may recommend surgery. Surgery may be necessary for some conditions, such as diverticulitis or uncontrolled bleeding.
The American College of Gastroenterology
American Gastroenterological Association
Canadian Association of Gastroenterology
Acute lower gastrointestinal bleeding. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 21, 2013. Accessed June 20, 2014.
Acute upper gastrointestinal bleeding. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 21, 2013. Accessed June 20, 2014.
Barnert J, Messmann H. Management of lower gastrointestinal tract bleeding. Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol. 2008;22(2):295-312.
Bleeding in the digestive tract. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/bleeding. Updated March 27, 2012. Accessed June 20, 2014.
Common cancer types. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/commoncancers. Updated March 21, 2014. Accessed June 20, 2014.
Laine L, Jensen DM. Managment of patients with ulcer bleeding. Am J Gastroenterol. 2012;107(3):345-360.
Laine L, Smith R, Min K, Chen C, Dubois RW. Systematic review: the lower gastrointestinal adverse effects of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2006;24(5):751-767.
Loke YK, Derry S. Risk of gastrointestinal haemorrhage with long-term use of aspirin: meta-analysis. BMJ. 2000;321:1183.
Wilcox CM, Alexander LN, Cotsonis GA, Clark WS. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are associated with both upper and lower gastrointestinal bleeding. Dig Dis Sci. 1997;42(5):990-997.
Last reviewed June 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.