Red Stool Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your red stool symptoms with Buoy, including 9 causes and common questions concerning your red stool.

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Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 9 Possible Red Stool Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. Real-Life Stories
  6. FAQs
  7. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  8. Statistics
  9. Related Articles
  10. References

Red Stool Symptoms

While everyone's frequency of bathroom trips varies, there are a few things that should remain constant. Variances in stool shades is to be expected based on your individual diet but red stool symptoms can be concerning.

Every incident of red stool should be taken seriously. Causes can be simple and treatable, like hemorrhoids [2,3], or signal a more serious condition that requires medical intervention.

Common accompanying symptoms of red stool

If you're experiencing red stools, any of the following associated red stool symptoms could be ailing you as well:

Generally, bright red blood found sitting in the toilet bowl or on toilet paper is a sign of an issue in the lower rectum or anus [1-3]. But blood that is mixed in with stool signals a problem higher up in the bowel.

Stool can have a bright red color, but more common colors are maroon and black. Stool can also have a tarry appearance [6]. In some cases, blood isn't noticeable at all, even though it's present. This is classified as occult blood and only detected by stool tests [1,2].

If the cause is higher in the bowel, it is usually more serious but not always dangerous. Read more in our red stool causes section to determine how concerned you should be about your red stool.

Red Stool Causes

Red stool should never be ignored. But not all causes are considered a medical emergency. You'll find a variety of red stool causes in our list, most which shouldn't cause alarm.

Diet

Processed foods are filled with dyes. Eating something heavy in red dye can affect the color of your stool. Eating an excess of red foods, like beets, can also alter stool's shade [1,2]. A diet lacking in fiber can lead to straining and consequently, red stool symptoms [5, 8, 9-11].

Infections

Infections can result in red stool, such as the following.

  • Viral: If the health of your digestive system is attacked by a virus, the nature and color of your stool can be one of the first symptoms. Rotavirus is one example. Children who receive the Rotavirus vaccine can experience red stool as a side effect [12]. Always speak to your child's pediatrician immediately if they experience this.
  • Bacterial: E. coli is a common bacterial infection that causes an intestinal infection [13]. While it affects everyone to different degrees, red stool is one possible symptom.

Trauma

Trauma can result in red stool, such as the following.

  • Rectal trauma: Anal fissures are one example of trauma that can cause red stool [8, 9, 10]. A tear in the lining of the lower rectum can bleed during bowel movements and cause red stool.
  • Internal bleeding: If there is blood anywhere in the digestive tract, it can result in red stool. One example is a Mallory-Weiss tear, or a tear in the mucous membrane of the esophagus [14].

Medical

Medical causes of red stool may include the following.

  • Medications: Bismuth, the active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol, can alter the color of stool [6]. The darker shade can be mistaken for red stool.
  • Diseases: There are a wide range of diseases that list red stool as a possible symptom. Everything from hemorrhoids to Crohn's disease to cancer can cause changes to stool [1,2,5]. If there is no obvious reason behind your red stool, seek medical help in finding a diagnosis as there are serious potential causes.

Diagnostic tests

There are several tests that may be conducted to determine your cause of red stool symptoms if it's not obvious such as:

  • Exams: Full medical history and physical exam including a rectal exam
  • Testing stool for occult blood
  • Endoscopy: This is to view the esophagus and stomach to check for bleeding sources.
  • Colonoscopy: This is to check for bleeding sources in the colon and rectum.
  • Barium X-ray: This is to check the digestive tract [1,2,4].

9 Possible Red Stool Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced red stool. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids, also known as piles, are swollen veins in your anus and lower rectum that can cause pain, itching, and rectal bleeding. Hemorrhoids may be seen or felt on the outside of the anus (external) or may be hidden from view inside of the rectum.

Hemorrhoids are common occurring in 10 million Am...

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Irritable bowel syndrome (ibs)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic disorder of the large intestine. It is characterized by recurrent abdominal pain and bowel movement issues that can be difficult to treat. Signs and symptoms of IBS are usually not severe or life-threateni...

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Chronic or recurrent hemorrhoids

Chronic, or recurrent, hemorrhoids are swollen veins in the anus and rectum that never really resolve and may be symptomatic more or less constantly.

Hemorrhoids are caused by anything that puts pressure on the anus from the inside, such as straining during bowel movements; constipation; pregnancy; or anal intercourse.

Most susceptible are pregnant women and older people, though anyone can be affected.

Symptoms include a small amount of bleeding during or after a bowel movement, as well as discomfort, itching, or swelling around the anus.

A medical provider can suggest treatment to ease the symptoms of chronic hemorrhoids, as well as make certain of the diagnosis since other, more serious conditions can have symptoms similar to hemorrhoids.

Diagnosis is made through patient history and physical examination.

Treatment most often involves simple lifestyle changes such as drinking more water; adding fiber-rich foods to the diet; using fiber supplements and stool softeners; not delaying, or straining, to pass a bowel movement; and using topical medications. Surgical procedures to remove the hemorrhoid can be used in some cases.

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

Anal fissure

An anal fissure is a break, or tear, in the mucous membrane lining of the anus. The anus is the opening at the end of the digestive tract where stool leaves the body. A fissure is caused primarily by constipation, which leads to straining to pass large hard stools; trauma caused by insertion of objec...

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Red Stool Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your red stool

Possible early irritable bowel syndrome (ibs)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is very common problem that affects the large intestine. It can cause stomach pain, cramps, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. Doctors think that IBS is caused by the brain sending wrong messages to the bowels, such as during times of high stress, causing physical changes. The formal criteria for this diagnosis requires 3 months of symptoms. Therefore you may have an early presentation.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea or vomiting, stool changes, constipation

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Colonic neoplasm

Colonic neoplasm means "new tissue" growing in the colon, or large intestine. This neoplasm may be either benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancer.)

The exact cause of any cancer remains unknown. Risk factors seem to be:

Being over fifty years of age.

  • Family history of the disease.
  • A high-fat, low-fiber diet, typical in the modern world
  • Chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon such as Crohn's disease.
  • Smoking and alcohol use.
  • Diabetes, obesity, and inactivity.

The earliest symptoms are usually polyps, small growths within the colon which can be detected on colonoscopy and removed before they can become cancerous. Later symptoms may be unexplained fatigue; change in bowel habits; persistent abdominal discomfort such as gas or cramps; blood in stool; or rectal bleeding.

Diagnosis is made through colonoscopy and sometimes blood testing.

Treatment is done through surgery, which may be minor or extensive; and through chemotherapy with radiation therapy, usually done before and after surgery. Supportive care to keep the patient comfortable is also an important part of treatment.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, stomach bloating, stool changes, diarrhea, constipation

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Constipation from not eating enough fiber

Constipation is defined as having stools which are large, hard, and difficult to pass. This leaves the person feeling bloated and uncomfortable. Many things can cause constipation, and a common one is lack of fiber in the diet.

To determine whether lack of fiber is causing the constipation, all other causes are first ruled out:

  • Not drinking enough water, sometimes to the point of dehydration.
  • Lack of exercise, which helps increase blood circulation and therefore motility (contraction and movement) of the bowel.
  • A very low or no-fat diet.
  • A need for probiotics, which replenish the "good" bacteria in the gut.
  • Medications, or certain illnesses, which have a constipating effect.
  • Constantly ignoring the feeling of needing to move the bowels, and delaying going to the toilet.

If fiber is needed, the best sources are fresh vegetables; fresh or dried fruits; and whole wheat and brown rice, because those include the fiber-rich bran. Over-the-counter fiber tablets can be tried, though laxatives should only be used if recommended by a medical provider.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: constipation, constipation, pain in the lower left abdomen, pain when passing stools, feeling of needing to constantly pass stool

Symptoms that always occur with constipation from not eating enough fiber: constipation, constipation

Symptoms that never occur with constipation from not eating enough fiber: vomiting

Urgency: Self-treatment

New onset crohn's disease

Crohn's disease is an inflammation of the bowel. It is caused by a faulty immune system response which makes the body attack the lining of the intestines.

The disease usually appears before age thirty and can affect anyone. Those with a family history may be most susceptible. Smoking is a known risk factor.

Aggravating factors include stress, poor diet, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and aspirin.

Early symptoms usually develop gradually, but can appear suddenly. These include fatigue, loss of appetite, fever, mouth sores, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and blood in stool.

Untreated Crohn's disease can cause ulcers throughout the digestive tract as well as bowel obstruction, malnutrition, and deteriorating general health.

Diagnosis is made through blood test and stool sample test. Colonoscopy, CT scan, MRI, endoscopy, and/or enteroscopy may also be used.

Crohn's disease cannot be cured, but can be managed through reducing the inflammation. Antibiotics, corticosteroids, and immune system suppressors may be tried. Excellent nutrition, vitamin supplements, smoking cessation, and reduction in stress can be helpful.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, stomach bloating, loss of appetite, constipation, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Chronic anal fissure

Anal fissures are splits or tears in the part of the anus closest outside of the body. They're very common and typically affect the young and middle-aged and both genders, equally. 11% of people will have an anal fissure in their lifetime.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: rectal pain, pain when passing stools, painful rectal bleeding, hard stools, mild rectal bleeding

Symptoms that never occur with chronic anal fissure: unintentional weight loss

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Red Stool Treatments and Relief

If your red stool is caused by a manageable trauma or treatable infection, there normally isn't a reason to schedule a doctor's appointment.

When red stool is an emergency

If you notice any of the following red stool symptoms, seek medical attention.

  • Disorientation
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Fever: Higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Severe stomach discomfort
  • Vomiting blood [1,2,4]

Unless you've been diagnosed with a serious cause for your red stool symptoms, treatment at home will mainly focus on prevention.

Preventing red stool

The following red stool treatments should help prevent further instances.

  • High fiber diet: Fiber is the ideal treatment for irregular bowel movements that could be behind your red stool. Add more whole-wheat flour, beans, and vegetables to your diet [5,8,11]. Minimizing constipation will help hemorrhoids quiet down.
  • Sitz baths: A sitz bath can provide immediate relief if there is rectal trauma [15]. Just sitting in warm water is enough to relieve pain or itching.
  • Probiotics: Probiotics in general can help support a healthy digestive system. But if you suffer from an inflammatory bowel disease, one study showed that certain probiotics can decrease episodes of rectal bleeding [16].
  • Hemorrhoid cream: Topical treatment with cream or ointment can relieve the discomfort of hemorrhoids [17].

Seeing red stool can be scary. If your health is otherwise normal, there is likely a cause behind your red stool that is treatable and not considered dangerous. But when there doesn't seem to be a probable cause, medical tests and treatments can get the problem under wraps. Never ignore red stool but don't panic too.

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FAQs About Red Stool

Here are some frequently asked questions about red stool.

Can certain foods cause red stool?

Yes, certain foods can cause red stool. Most commonly, red foods like tomatoes or beets can cause a red-tinged stool [6]. Additionally, any food with large amounts of red food coloring can cause a red tinge to fecal matter. If you have no known cause for redness in your stool, it may be caused by bleeding and should be evaluated by a physician.

Why am I pooping blood with no pain?

Painless blood in stool can be caused by many things, including colon cancer, hemorrhoids, diverticulosis, diverticulitis, and angiodysplasia [1]. The most worrisome of these is cancer, and there is no means of determining if blood is or is not caused by cancer. If you suspect cancer you should seek medical evaluation. Hemorrhoids that are painless are internal and sometimes cannot be seen [3, 9, 10]. Diverticulitis can cause infection and bleeding, but may also require a colonoscopy to be seen [18]. Angiodysplasia is more common in elderly individuals and also requires medical evaluation to identify.

Is it normal to poop with blood?

No. It is not normal to have blood in or on feces or in the toilet bowl. There are many causes of blood in feces or in the toilet bowl. Some of these causes are dangerous and others are benign and self-limited (will resolve on their own). However, because the dangerous causes can only be identified by a medical professional, you should seek evaluation to determine if any additional steps should be taken.

Why is my stool dark red?

Dark red or maroon stool (melana) can be caused by consuming food that color the stool red, such as beets or tomatoes [6], but can also be caused by bleeding in the lower intestinal tract [7]. Because often the cause cannot be determined, it is wise to seek medical evaluation. GI bleeding is more common in elderly individuals, individuals with a personal or family history of cancer, celiac disease or infections. You should seek medical evaluation to rule out the more dangerous causes like cancer or inflammatory bowel diseases.

Why is my stool bright red?

Bright red stool (hematochezia) is usually a sign of bleeding near the anus [7]. A common and benign cause of bright red blood in the toilet is an anal fissure. This is usually accompanied by a ripping or burning sensation as stool is passed, followed by blood in the bowl, on the feces, or on the toilet paper. It often follows constipation or a particularly hard stool, and takes time to heal in which an individual should consume foods and supplements that produce soft stools. Lower GI bleeding in the distal colon or the rectum can also cause hematochezia.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Red Stool

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Have you experienced any nausea?
  • Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Have you had any changes in your weight?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Please take a quiz to find out what might be causing your red stool. These questions are also covered.

Red Stool Quiz

Red Stool Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced red stool have also experienced:

  • 15% Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache)
  • 12% Diarrhea
  • 9% Rectal Bleeding

People who have experienced red stool were most often matched with:

  • 60% Irritable Bowel Syndrome (Ibs)
  • 20% Hemorrhoids
  • 20% Chronic Or Recurrent Hemorrhoids

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant (a.k.a. the quiz).

Red Stool Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your red stool

References

  1. Ansari P. Overview of GI Bleeding. Merck Manual Professional Version. Updated January 2018. Merck Manual Professional Version Link.
  2. Gastrointestinal Bleeding or Blood into the Stool. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Johns Hopkins Medicine Link.
  3. Ansari P. Hemorrhoids. Merck Manual Professional Version. Updated July 2018. Merck Manual Professional Version Link.
  4. Symptoms & Causes of GI Bleeding. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Published July 2016. NIDDK Link.
  5. Constipation, Diarrhea and Bloody Stool. Digestive Healthcare Center. DHC Center Link.
  6. Lal SK. Black or Tarry Stools. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Published April 12, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.
  7. Wilson D. Hematemesis, Melena, and Hematochezia. Walker HK, Hall WD, Hurst JW, eds. In: Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations. 3rd ed. Boston, MA: Butterworths; 1990. NCBI Link.
  8. Anal Fissures. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Johns Hopkins Medicine Link.
  9. Foxx-Orenstein AE, Umar SB, Crowell MD. Common Anorectal Disorders. Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 2014;10(5):294-301. NCBI Link.
  10. Altomare DF, Binda GA, Canuti S, Landolfi V, Trompetto M, Villani RD. The Management of Patients with Primary Chronic Anal Fissure: A Position Paper. 2011;15(2):135-141. NCBI Link.
  11. Constipation. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated February 12, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.
  12. Questions & Answers About Intussusception and Rotavirus Vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated January 27, 2017. CDC Link.
  13. Cunin P, Tedjouka E, Germani Y, et al. An Epidemic of Bloody Diarrhea: Escherichia Coli O157 Emerging in Cameroon? Emerging Infectious Diseases. 1999;5(2). CDC Link.
  14. Lynch KL. Mallory-Weiss Syndrome. Merck Manual Professional Version. Updated April 2018. Merck Manual Professional Version Link.
  15. Vorvick LJ. Sitz Bath. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated January 26, 2017. MedlinePlus Link.
  16. Jonkers D, Stockbrugger R. Probiotics and Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 2003;96(4):167-171. NCBI Link.
  17. Hemorrhoids. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. NIDDK Link.
  18. Definition & Facts for Diverticular Disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Published May 2016. NIDDK Link.

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