Bright Red Blood in Stool: Possible Causes

If you sometimes notice bright red blood in some or all of your stool or on the toilet paper when you wipe yourself after a bowel movement, you may feel worried and wonder what it means. Do I have colon cancer? Or hemorrhoids? Or some other problem within my digestive tract?

The truth is, bright red blood in the stool can be a symptom of many different issues, some serious and some not. Here is more information about some of the possible causes.

What Does Blood in Your Stool Signify?

Bright red blood in your stool could be caused by various things, including:

  • Constipation: This condition happens when stool becomes thick and hard and difficult to pass. This is a common cause of blood in the stool. It is actually possible to tear the tissue around your anus by passing a large stool, effectively giving yourself a cut. It takes time for that cut to heal and until it does, it bleeds.
  • Hemorrhoids: Hemorrhoids can also cause blood in the stool. They are veins that swell and become inflamed, and they are usually located in the last portion of your digestive tract, in the colon, rectum, or anus. Hemorrhoids can be internal or external and are often caused by struggling when trying to defecate. You can't always feel them, and they don't always hurt when you sit. They are not life-threatening and they typically go away on their own.
  • Your diet: It is possible to eat things that will cause bright red blood in the stool. For example, if you eat sunflower seeds in the shells and chew up the entire seeds (along with the shells), your body has trouble breaking that stuff down. As a result, the shells go through your digestive system, causing scratching and a little bit of bleeding.
  • Digestive issues: Medical conditions such as Crohn's disease and ulcers can lead to blood in the stool. Crohn's is a chronic, incurable condition that is one of the major forms of inflammatory bowel disease (along with ulcerative colitis). It can cause inflammation anywhere along the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus.
  • Colon cancer: This serious disease is also a possible cause for blood in the stool. Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in men and women in the U.S. About 110,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with colon cancer each year. If you're over the age of 40 and you're experiencing rectal bleeding, a doctor might recommend having a colonoscopy to rule out colon cancer as a potential cause. However, it's worth noting that a 2017 study from the American Cancer Society found that colorectal cancer rates are increasing among young adults: Rates of the disease have been going up for every generation that's been born since 1950. So no matter your age, always get an evaluation from a doctor if you have a concern.

What You Can Do About It

If you're unsure whether the bright red blood in your stool is caused by something serious, always consult a doctor (such as a gastroenterologist specialist) and have an evaluation. It's better to be safe than sorry. It's especially important to seek advice from a medical professional if the bleeding goes on for more than a day or two, seems like an excessive amount, or is making you very worried. 

Sources:

Bleeding in the Digestive Tract. National Digestive Diseases Clearinghouse. Nov. 2004. Accessed 5 Jul. 2008 [http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/bleeding/index.htm].

Blood in Stool. American Cancer Society. 7 Apr. 2008. Accessed 5 Jul. 2008 [http://www.cancer.org/docroot/MBC/content/MBC_2_3x_Blood_in_Stool.asp?sitearea=MBC].

Siegel RL, et al. "Colorectal Cancer Incidence Patterns in the United States, 1974–2013.​" ​Journal of the National Cancer Institute. February 2017.

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