Gastrointestinal Bleeding: Treatment, Prevention

Overview

Gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding is a serious symptom of a disease rather than a disease itself. This symptom starts in your GI tract, also called digestive tract, including:

  • esophagus
  • stomach
  • small intestine
  • large intestine or colon
  • rectum
  • anus

Bleeding can come from any of these areas. If it occurs in esophagus, stomach or initial part of the small intestine (duodenum), it can be called upper GI bleeding. If bleeding affects the other parts, it is lower GI bleeding.

GI bleeding can be either acute or chronic. Its level can also range from mild to severe.

In the United States, about 100,000 people are affected by upper GI bleeding. And lower GI bleeding accounts for 20 to 33 percent of GI bleeding episodes in Western countries.


Symptoms

Common symptoms of GI bleeding include:

  • black or tarry stool
  • bright red blood in vomit
  • cramps in the abdomen
  • dark or bright red blood mixed with stool
  • dizziness or faintness
  • feeling tired
  • paleness
  • shortness of breath
  • vomit that looks like coffee grounds
  • weakness

Acute GI bleeding and chronic GI bleeding have some different signs.

Acute GI bleeding

If you experience acute bleeding, you may go into shock. Acute bleeding is an emergency condition. Call 911 immediately if you have symptoms of shock such as:

  • a drop in blood pressure
  • little or no urination
  • a rapid pulse
  • unconsciousness

Chronic GI bleeding

If you experience chronic bleeding, you may develop anemia whose symptoms involve feeling tired and shortness of breath.


Causes

There are many causes of GI bleeding.

For upper GI bleeding:

  • peptic ulcer (the most common cause)
  • tears in the lining of the tube that connects your throat to your stomach
  • abnormal, enlarged veins in the esophagus
  • esophagitis

For lower GI bleeding:

  • diverticular disease
  • inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • tumors
  • colon polyps
  • hemorrhoids
  • anal fissures
  • proctitis


Diagnosis

Your doctor will determine whether you have GI bleeding by asking about medical history, conducting a physical exam and ordering tests. Tests may include:

  • blood tests that may include a complete blood count, a test to see how fast your blood clots, a platelet count and liver function tests.
  • stool tests that help determine the cause of occult bleeding.
  • nasogastric lavage that helps determine the source of your bleed.
  • upper endoscopy that examines your upper gastrointestinal tract.
  • colonoscopy that examines your large intestine and rectum.
  • capsule endoscopy that allows your doctor to see the inside of your small intestine.
  • flexible sigmoidoscopy that enables your doctor to look at your rectum and the last part of the large intestine that leads to your rectum.
  • balloon-assisted enteroscopy that inspects parts of your small intestine that other tests using an endoscope can’t reach.
  • angiography that looks for and treats bleeding vessels or other abnormalities.
  • imaging tests that help find the source of the bleeding.


Treatment

In some cases, GI bleeding may stop or get better without treatment. If it still results in problems, treatment you will have depends on its cause and location. Your doctor may treat the bleeding during endoscopy or colonoscopy by:

  • injecting medicines into the bleeding site.
  • treating the bleeding site and surrounding tissue with a heat probe, an electric current, or a laser.
  • closing affected blood vessels with a band or clip.


Prevention

You can help prevent GI bleeding by

  • limiting your use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • limiting your use of alcohol.
  • quitting smoking.
  • following your doctor’s instructions to treat GERD if you have it.


Keywords: gastrointestinal bleeding; GI bleeding.

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What Causes Dizziness?

What is Acute Blood Loss Anemia?

What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

What are the Symptoms of an Esophageal Hernia?

Abdominal Pain – Possible Causes

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.