Read below about rectal bleeding, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your rectal bleeding from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

This symptom can also be referred to as:
Anal bleeding
Bloody bottom

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Rectal Bleeding Symptoms

It may be something of a shock to notice bright red blood in the toilet bowl or on the toilet tissue, but rectal bleeding is more common than you might think. Some causes are serious, but most of the time the bleeding is not dangerous and can be readily treated.

Characteristics:

  • There will bright red blood from the rectum, which most commonly appears during or just after having a bowel movement.
  • There may be pressure or discomfort in the rectum at the time of the bleeding.
  • If the blood is coming from higher up in the intestine and is therefore contained within the stools, the stools will appear black or maroon in color.

Duration:

  • An acute episode of rectal bleeding is one that occurs suddenly, with perhaps a large amount of blood evident.
  • Chronic rectal bleeding may happen on and off for months or years, with only a small amount of blood present. It never seems to get better or to get worse.

Who is most often affected by rectal bleeding?

  • Adults over age 40 are probably most often affected.
  • However, anyone can have the symptom of rectal bleeding, including children, especially if there has been severe and chronic constipation or diarrhea.

When is rectal bleeding most likely to occur?

  • Rectal bleeding often begins in the presence of chronic constipation due to the ongoing straining and pressure on the walls of the rectum.
  • Bleeding may also occur when there is chronic diarrhea, because of the irritation and inflammation that this causes in the tissues.

Is rectal bleeding serious?

  • An occasional and very small amount of blood, especially in the presence of hemorrhoids and/or constipation, is most likely not serious.
  • However, if there is rectal pain or bleeding that become chronic, especially if these occur along with other symptoms of intestinal illness, you should see your medical provider so that tests can be done and treatment can be given.

Rectal Bleeding Causes Overview

Many conditions can have rectal bleeding as a symptom. The most common are those involving constipation and hemorrhoids. However, bowel diseases, sexual activity, sexually transmitted infections, and tumors of the rectum or anus can also cause bleeding.

Most common cause types:

  • Fissures, or tearing and bleeding, of the rectal or anal tissue.
  • Hemorrhoids, which are swollen veins either inside the rectum or beneath the outer skin of the anus. These enlarged veins can bleed easily under additional pressure, such as when you are having a bowel movement.

Less common cause types:

  • Bowel diseases, many of which cause irritation and inflammation of the lining of the intestines.
  • Polyps, which are benign growths in the wall of the intestine and can become malignant if not removed.
  • Sexual activity of any kind that causes trauma to the anus and/or rectum, including infection with sexually transmitted diseases that damage these tissues.

Rare & unusual cause types:

  • Rectal ulcers, which are sores within the lining of the rectum. These are most often due to chronic, ongoing constipation and the subsequent straining.
  • Proctitis, which is any inflammation of the lining of the rectum.
  • Colon, rectal, or anal tumors, as well as the radiation therapy that may be used to treat them.

10 Potential Rectal Bleeding Causes

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

  1. 1.Chronic or Recurrent Hemorrhoids

    Hemorrhoids are a very common condition that affects more 50% of the population, typically after the age of 30. Hemorrhoids are the "varicose veins of the anus and rectum" - enlarged, bulging blood vessels in the anus that can bleed or clot.

    Chronic hemorrhoids can worsen with time. But, 90% of people are successfully managed with non-surgical treatments.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    rectal bleeding, rectal pain, pain when passing stools, anal itching, painless rectal bleeding
    Symptoms that never occur with chronic or recurrent hemorrhoids:
    unintentional weight loss
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.Hemorrhoids

    Hemorrhoids are a very common condition that affects more 50% of the population, typically after the age of 30. Hemorrhoids are enlarged, bulging blood vessels in the anus that can bleed or clot.

    Chronic and can worsen with time. But, 90% of people are successfully managed with non-surgical treatments.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    constipation, rectal pain, rectal bleeding, pain when passing stools, anal itching
    Symptoms that never occur with hemorrhoids:
    unintentional weight loss
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Chronic Constipation

    Constipation is a very common condition affecting the large intestine. It is characterized by difficulty passing stool, or passing stool less often. Commonly it is linked to not eating enough dietary fiber, not drinking enough fluids, or not getting enough exercise. Some medications can cause constipation as well.

    Variable

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    stomach bloating, constipation, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), pain when passing stools, rectal bleeding
    Symptoms that always occur with chronic constipation:
    constipation
    Symptoms that never occur with chronic constipation:
    unintentional weight loss
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Upper Gastrointestinal Bleeding

    The digestive, or gastrointestinal (GI), tract includes the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus. Upper GI bleeding is a medical emergency involving internal bleeding from the esophagus, stomach, or the small intestine.

    Several days to weeks of recovery in the hospital.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, being severely ill, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), lightheadedness, rectal bleeding
    Symptoms that always occur with upper gastrointestinal bleeding:
    vomiting (old) blood or passing tarry stools, being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  5. 5.Perianal Skin Infection

    Perianal Dermatitis is caused by some irritant or allergen that causes the area around the anus to be burning/stinging.

    Resolves after removing irritant

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    rectal bleeding, rectal pain, anal itching, itchy rash, red rash
    Symptoms that always occur with perianal skin infection:
    rash, red rash, rash
    Urgency:
    Wait and watch

    Rectal Bleeding Checker

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  6. 6.Side - Effect(s) of Radiation Therapy to the Pelvis

    Radiation therapy is a common treatment for cancer and more than half of cancer patients will undergo a form of this treatment. The radiation attacks cell DNA in order to prevent the cells from growing more and kills them.

    In many cases, symptoms resolve on their own at the end of treatment.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    vaginal discharge, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, urinary changes, constipation
    Symptoms that always occur with side-effect(s) of radiation therapy to the pelvis:
    currently undergoing radiation therapy to the pelvis
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Acute Variceal Hemorrhage

    Acute variceal hemorrhage is a condition that can occur secondary to (as a result of) liver disease. Blood vessels bringing blood from the digestive tract back to the heart which course through the esophagus (a muscular tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach) become dilated. In acute variceal hemorrhage, these vessels burst, resulting in internal bleeding.

    Full recovery from hemorrhage is expected within 6 weeks.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    being severely ill, abdominal pain (stomach ache), vomiting, constipation, lightheadedness
    Symptoms that always occur with acute variceal hemorrhage:
    being severely ill, vomiting (old) blood or passing tarry stools
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  8. 8.Colon Damage From Impaired Blood Flow

    A specific type of colon damage, called ischemic colitis occurs when blood flow to part of the large intestine (colon) is reduced due to narrowed or blocked blood vessels (arteries). The diminished blood flow provides insufficient oxygen for the cells in the digestive system. It can cause pain and can damage the colon. Ischemic colitis can affect any part of the colon, but most people experience pain on the left side of the belly area (abdomen). It is most common among people older than age 60. Commonly, ischemic colitis is misdiagnosed because it can easily be confused with other digestive problems.

    Ischemia of the colon has the best prognosis of the ischemic bowel diseases. However, 20% of people develop chronic ulcers as a result. You should make sure to follow up with your doctor to manage the disease and avoid complications.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhea, being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  9. 9.Colonic Neoplasm

    Colonic neoplasm is a disorder of the large intestine. It often causes abdominal pain, cramping, changes in bowel habits, and fatigue.

    The treatment & prognosis for colonic neoplasm are variable and dependent on the disease severity.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, stomach bloating, stool changes, diarrhea, constipation
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  10. 10.Immune Thrombocytopenia

    Platelets are tiny cells in the blood that help form blood clots and seal minor cuts and wounds. Immune thrombocytopenia, also known as immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), is a condition where there are not enough platelets in the blood, causing easy bruising and tiny reddish purple dots on the skin from bleeding under the surface.

    This is a complex condition that requires consultation from a doctor to determine its course.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    being severely ill, rectal bleeding, red stool, unexplained bruising, unexplained/excessive bleeding from cuts or wounds
    Symptoms that always occur with immune thrombocytopenia:
    being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Rectal Bleeding Treatments and Relief

Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if:

  • A significant amount of blood suddenly appears from the rectum, whether this happens during a bowel movement or not.
  • You also have severe abdominal pain or cramping.
  • You feel cold, nauseated, dizzy, or lightheaded, or actually faint, while symptoms of rectal bleeding are occurring. This may indicate that a large amount of blood is being lost internally.

Schedule an appointment for:

  • Rectal bleeding that happens on a regular basis, even if there seems to be only a small amount of blood.
  • Stools that appear, tarry, black, or maroon. These colors indicate larger amounts of blood being present.
  • Bleeding that occurs on its own and not while you are having a bowel movement.
  • Ongoing pain in the anus and rectum, often with mucus discharge.

Remedies that you can try at home:

  • Easing constipation through improved diet and exercise, drinking more water, and taking an over-the-counter fiber supplement.
  • Trying warm baths and over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream for the hemorrhoids.

FAQs About Rectal Bleeding

Here are some frequently asked questions about rectal bleeding.

Does rectal bleeding stop on its own?

Rectal bleeding (hematochezia) may stop on its own depending on the cause. A hemorrhoid or injury of the anus, like an anal tear, will usually stop bleeding on its own. If you have rectal bleeding that has not been examined by a medical professional, you should seek examination and treatment.

Can rectal bleeding cause anemia?

Yes, bleeding from the rectum (hematochezia) can cause anemia if it is uncontrolled acutely or chronically. There are many causes of rectal bleeding, the most common are hemorrhoids and anal fissures, but cirrhosis or liver failure from alcohol can also increase the risk of bleeds as can diverticulosis or an outpouching of the colon.

Can rectal bleeding be caused by stress?

Generally no, rectal bleeding (hematochezia) is not caused by stress. Stomach ulcers can be caused by stress, but the enzymes and hormones that cause a stomach ulcer do not affect the rectum similarly. If you are experiencing rectal bleeding you should seek medical care.

Why does rectal bleeding occur after a bowel movement?

Rectal bleeding (hematochezia) may occur after a particularly large or hard bowel movement, especially if associated with straining, from an anal tear or anal fissure. Less commonly, stool that has an abrasive substance like nuts or undigested whole grains can tear the anal mucosa and cause bright red blood on the toilet paper or in the bowl.

Why does my rectal bleeding come and go?

Rectal bleeding (hematochezia) can come and go for a variety of reasons. It can be caused by hemorrhoids as well as anal fissures, certain types of inflammatory bowel disease, deformations or changes of the rectum and cancers. Most of these causes can produce intermittent bleeding so you should seek medical evaluation to determine the cause. Intermittent bleeding is often caused by intermittent clotting or blockage of a bleed with firm stool.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Rectal Bleeding

  • Q.Have you had any changes in your weight?
  • Q.Have you experienced any nausea?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you ever been diagnosed with an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), like Crohn's or Ulcerative colitis?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our rectal bleeding symptom checker to find out more.

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Rectal Bleeding Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced rectal bleeding have also experienced:

    • 11% Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache)
    • 7% Diarrhea
    • 4% Nausea
  • People who have experienced rectal bleeding had symptoms persist for:

    • 33% Less Than a Day
    • 29% Over a Month
    • 23% Less Than a Week
  • People who have experienced rectal bleeding were most often matched with:

    • 27% Hemorrhoids
    • 10% Chronic or Recurrent Hemorrhoids
    • 6% Chronic Constipation
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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