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Gastrointestinal Bleeding (cont.)

Gastrointestinal Bleeding Symptoms

Acute gastrointestinal bleeding first will appear as vomiting of blood, bloody bowel movements, or black, tarry stools. Vomited blood may look like "coffee grounds." Symptoms associated with blood loss can include

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pale appearance
  • Vomiting of blood usually originates from an upper GI source.
  • Bright red or maroon stool can be from either a lower GI source or from brisk bleeding from an upper GI source.
  • Long-term GI bleeding may go unnoticed or may cause fatigue, anemia, black stools, or a positive test for microscopic blood.

When to Seek Medical Care for GI Bleeding

Any presence of blood in the stool or from the upper gastrointestinal tract is significant and needs medical attention. Black or dark stools may represent slow bleeding into the GI tract and should be treated by a doctor.

Any significant bleeding into the GI tract, either vomited blood or blood through the rectum, should be evaluated in the emergency department.

Gastrointestinal Bleeding Diagnosis

  • A doctor will perform a complete history and physical exam to evaluate the patient's problem. The physical will include a digital rectal exam, to test for visible or microscopic blood from the rectum.
  • The doctor may need to perform a procedure called an endoscopy or a colonoscopy. An endoscope is a long tube with a tiny camera at the end. It is passed into the stomach, and the first part of the small intestine. A colonoscopy refers to the passage of a tube with a tiny camera through the rectum into the colon, to directly see the source of bleeding. Both procedures can be diagnostic, finding the source of bleeding; and therapeutic, stopping it.
  • Lab tests such as complete blood count (CBC), serum chemistries, liver tests, and coagulation studies also can be helpful to determine the rate or severity of bleeding and to determine factors that may contribute to the problem.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/31/2015
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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

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Acute gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding is a potentially life-threatening abdominal emergency that remains a common cause of hospitalization.

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