The medical term for the passage of red or maroon colored stools is "hematochezia." The brighter color of the blood indicates that it may be coming from a source in the lower gastrointestinal tract (colon), rather than the higher gastrointestinal tract (esophagus, stomach, small intestine). A physician should always investigate blood in the stool to rule out potentially serious conditions.
Several different types of food with natural or artificial coloring may cause red colored stools, which looks like hematochezia. These can include:
A physician should be consulted immediately if red or maroon colored stools can not be attributed to a benign cause such as a food.
The blood could be caused by several different conditions including hemorrhoids, anal fissures, colon polyps or colon cancer, diverticular bleeding, or inflammatory bowel disease.
The site of the bleeding must be determined before a diagnosis can be made and a treatment prescribed. A patient history will be taken, including changes in bowel habits and location of any pain. A physician may order a fecal occult blood (FOBT) test to measure the amount of blood in the stool. An FOBT is a simple test for a patientit only requires that a stool sample be collected at home and dropped off at the physicians office or a laboratory.
A physician may order other diagnostic tests to determine the cause and exact location of the bleeding. This could include x-rays, blood tests, colonoscopy, gastroscopy, stool culture, and barium studies.
Causes of Hematochezia
Hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids are a common cause of bright red blood in the stool or on the toilet paper. A hemorrhoid is actually a form of vericose vein. The veins in and around the rectum and anus become swollen. Symptoms of hemorrhoids include anal itching, bleeding during bowel movements, pain, protrusion during bowel movements and sensitive lumps around the anus. To diagnose hemorrhoids, a physician will need to examine the anus and rectum and possibly perform a quick rectal exam.
Anal fissures. A fissure is a tear or ulcer in the lining of the anal canal. The anal canal is the last part of the rectum before the anus. Fissures can occur in anyone, but are more common in middle age or young adults. A fissure can be difficult to heal as it causes a spasm in the anal sphincter and aggravates itself. Symptoms of a fissure include anal lump, bright red blood in toilet bowel or on paper, painful bowel movements, and swollen skin tag. A fissure is typically diagnosed with a visual or a rectal exam. Fissures can be caused by constipation or by forcing a hard bowel movement through the anus, during childbirth, or ulceration of hemorrhoids.
Diverticular bleeding. A diverticulum is a small pouch in the colon that bulges out of a weakened spot in the colon wall. The condition of having diverticula in the colon is called diverticulosis and it affects about 10% percent of Americans over the age of 40 years. Although not common, diverticula may cause bleeding that appears the stool or the toilet. This bleeding may not require treatment unless it is continuous or severe.
Colon polyps or colon cancer. A polyp is a benign growth on the wall of the colon or rectum which may bleed. Some colon cancers may develop from these benign polyps. Discovering polyps early through a sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy and having them removed may help prevent colon cancer. Additionally, if evidence of colon cancer is found early, it is one of the most preventable and curable types of cancer.
Inflammatory bowel disease. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease are incurable chronic diseases of the intestinal tract collectively known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Intervals of active disease, or 'flares', and periods of remission characterize IBD. IBD may cause bleeding in the digestive tract that appears in the stool or the toilet. Several diagnostic tests are normally completed and studied by a digestive specialist before a diagnosis of IBD is made.