Maybe you have been noticing blood in your stools for a while now, or it is a more recent discovery. Either way, it is likely to be concerning and you may be embarrassed to see your doctor to find out what may be the cause. First of all, rectal bleeding does not necesarily mean you have cancer – this is a common misconception. Whilst bloody stools is one of the symptoms of bowel cancer, there are many other conditions that could also be the cause. Specialist diagnosis is essential to explore all possibilities.
Diagnosis by a specialist is essential
When considering what could be the cause of the blood you are seeing in your stools, it is essential to seek the diagnosis of a specialist. Symptoms vary significantly person to person, so self-diagnosis can be really dangerous. The colour and consistency of the blood, can give some signs as to where the bleeding is taking place though:
Bright red blood is fresh blood, so it generally means that the bleeding is close to the anus. Haemorrhoids is a common condition that causes bright red blood to appear on your toilet tissue or in the toilet bowl. Alternatively, it could be an anal fissure, which is a tear in the skin near to the anus.
Dark blood, which may be sticky in consistency, generally indicates that the bleeding is occurring higher up in the digestive system. Early diagnosis is required to locate the bleeding and determine what could be the cause.
Common causes of bloody stools
Haemorrhoids, also more commonly known as piles, can cause you to see bright red blood in the toilet or on your toilet paper. This is caused from swollen blood vessels in the rectum that can bleed when you go to the toilet. Approximately 75% of adults will experience piles at some point in their life. They are painful, itchy and uncomfortable so it is always good to get them treated, although many do usually heal on their own, in time.
Read more about haemorrhoids including the causes, different types of haemorrhoids, symptoms and treatment options.
Anal fissures are also a condition that can cause bloody stools, particularly seeing bright red blood. This is caused from small tears in the skin close to the opening of your anus. Approximately 10% of people will experience an anal fissure at some point in their life and they are most common in young people between the ages of 15 and 40. Like haemorrhoids, an anal fissure can be itchy and uncomfortable so treatment can help relieve the symptoms, particularly if they don’t clear up naturally within 4-6 weeks.
Read more about the symptoms of anal fissures.
Anal fistulas may cause bloody stools as a result of an infection that causes abscesses close to the anus, which get irritated and may bleed when going to the toilet. However, anal fistulas could also be linked to two of the most common types of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases; Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis. It’s important therefore to seek professional diagnosis.
Read more about the symptoms of anal fistulas.
Diverticula are small bulges found inside the lining of your lower bowel. Sometimes weak blood vessels inside the diverticula can cause quite severe rectal bleeding, although usually it is painless it does come as a shock. Approximately 5% of people develop diverticula before they are 40 years old, and approximately 50% before they are 80 year old. If left untreated it can cause complications so seek medical advice so you can put your mind at rest.
Gastroenteritis is a nasty infection in the stomach and bowel that can cause sever diarrhoea, which may contain traces of blood. Usually when symptoms subside, your stools should return to normal. However, if they don’t then return to your doctor for more advice, so other conditions can be eliminated.
Bowel polyps are small growths on the lining of the bowel. Whilst many never turn into cancerous cells, some can. Blood when going to the toilet can be a symptom of bowel polyps and it is often the trigger point when people look to get their symptoms checked out by a doctor. Bowel cancer screening predominately looks for bowel polyps before any symptoms arise, when a simple procedure can be performed to snip them away from the bowel lining, preventing them becoming a risk.
Bloody stools can be a sign of bowel cancer, which is why it is always vital to get any symptoms of this nature checked by a specialist doctor. They will perform some routine tests, which may include a simple stool test, blood test or if they want to investigate further, they will use an endoscope to asses inside your bowel; a procedure known as a colonoscopy.
Read more about bowel cancer, including symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options.
As you can see there are many causes of bloody stools and only for a small percentage of people will it be linked to bowel cancer. However, diagnosis of rectal bleeding is essential so as to consider all options and not put your future health at risk.