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Gastrointestinal Bleeding (cont.)

Gastrointestinal Bleeding Causes

The causes of gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding are classified into upper or lower, depending on their location in the GI tract.

Upper GI bleeding

  • Peptic ulcer disease: Peptic ulcers are localized erosions of the mucosal lining of the digestive tract. Ulcers usually occur in the stomach or duodenum. Breakdown of the mucosal lining results in damage to blood vessels, causing bleeding.
  • Gastritis: General inflammation of the stomach lining, which can result in bleeding. Gastritis also results from an inability of the gastric lining to protect itself from the acid it produces. NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), steroids, alcohol, burns, and trauma can cause gastritis.
  • Esophageal varices: Swelling of the veins of the esophagus or stomach usually resulting from liver disease. Varices most commonly occur in alcoholic liver cirrhosis. When varices bleed, the bleeding can be massive, catastrophic and occur without warning.
  • Mallory-Weiss tear: A tear in the esophageal or stomach lining, often as a result of vomiting or retching. Mucosal tears also can occur after seizures, forceful coughing or laughing, lifting, straining, or childbirth. Physicians often find tears in people who have recently binged on alcohol.
  • Cancer: One of the earliest signs of esophageal or stomach cancers may be blood in the vomit or stool.
  • Inflammation: when the mucous membranes break down, they are unable to counteract the harsh effects of stomach acid. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), aspirin, alcohol, and cigarette smoking promote gastric ulcer formation. Helicobacter pylori is a type of bacteria that also promotes formation of ulcers.

Lower GI bleeding

  • Diverticulosis: One of the most common causes of lower GI bleeding. Small out-pockets, or diverticula, form in the wall of the colon (large intestine), usually in a weakened area of the bowel wall. The person may develop several pockets, which are more common in people who have constipation and strain during a bowel movement.
  • Cancers: One of the early signs of colon or rectal cancers may be blood in the stool.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Flares of inflammation from IBD often cause mucousy stool that has blood mixed in it.
  • Infectious diarrhea: Some viruses or bacteria can cause damage to the inner lining of the intestines, which can lead to bleeding.
  • Angiodysplasia: Along with diverticulosis, this is one of the most common causes of lower GI bleeding. Angiodysplasia is a malformation of the blood vessels in the wall of the GI tract. These are most commonly in the large intestine and often bleed. The elderly and people with chronic kidney failure develop the disease most often.
  • Polyps: Intestinal polyps are noncancerous tumors of the GI tract, occurring mostly in people older than 40 years of age. A small proportion of these polyps may transform into cancer. Colon polyps may bleed rapidly, or they may bleed slowly and go undetected.
  • Hemorrhoids and fissures: Hemorrhoids are swollen veins in and around the anus. Repeated stretching from straining during bowel movements causes them to bleed. Bleeding from hemorrhoids is usually mild, intermittent, and bright red. Anal fissures, or tears in the anal wall, also may trigger small amounts of bright red bleeding from the anus. Forceful straining during passage of hard stool usually causes such tears, which can be very painful and may require surgery.
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