Gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding is a symptom of a disorder in your digestive tract. The blood often appears in stool or vomit but isn't always visible, though it may cause the stool to look black or tarry. The level of bleeding can range from mild to severe and life-threatening.
Bleeding in the stomach or colon can usually be easily identified, but finding the cause of bleeding that occurs in the small intestine can be difficult. But sophisticated imaging technology can usually locate the problem, and minimally invasive procedures often can fix it.
GI bleeding can result from a number of digestive disorders, including:
- Peptic ulcers
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Colon polyps
- Abnormalities in blood vessels in the digestive tract
- Cancerous tumors
GI bleeding can be visible in the form of vomiting blood, having bright red bloody stools or having black tarry stools (melena). Even a small amount of GI bleeding that isn't visible can cause a shortage of red blood cells in your blood (anemia) over time.
Pinpointing the source of GI bleeding can be especially difficult if it starts in the small intestine. When the source can't be identified, the term "obscure GI bleeding" is used.