Gastrointestinal bleeding - Overview
Lower GI bleeding; GI bleeding; Upper GI bleeding
Definition of Gastrointestinal bleeding:
Gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding refers to any bleeding that starts in the gastrointestinal tract.
Bleeding may come from any site along the GI tract, but is often divided into:
- Upper GI bleeding: The upper GI tract includes the esophagus (the tube from the mouth to the stomach), stomach, and first part of the small intestine.
- Lower GI bleeding: The lower GI tract includes much of the small intestine, large intestine or bowels, rectum, and anus.
The amount of GI bleeding may be so small that it can only be detected on a lab test such as the fecal occult blood test. Other signs of GI bleeding include:
- Dark, tarry stools
- Larger amounts of blood passed from the rectum
- Small amounts of blood in the toilet bowl, on toilet paper, or in streaks on stool (feces)
- Vomiting blood
Massive bleeding from the GI tract can be dangerous. However, even very small amounts of bleeding that occur over a long period of time can lead to problems such as anemia or low blood counts.
Once a bleeding site is found, many therapies are available to stop the bleeding or treat the cause.
GI bleeding may be due to conditions that are not serious, including:
However, GI bleeding may also be a sign of more serious diseases and conditions, such as the following cancers of the GI tract:
Other possible causes of GI bleeding include:
- Reviewed last on: 1/31/2011
- David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
Bjorkman D. GI hemorrhage and occult GI bleeding. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D. Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 137.
Savides TJ, Jensen DM. Gastrointestinal bleeding. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2010:chap 19.
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