Many people experience blood in stool but only a small fraction consult their physician and undergo treatment. One of the reasons for this ignorance is unawareness about the causes of blood in stool. Some people are ashamed of this condition and don’t want to share it with anyone. You must know that blood in stool is a common condition and conventional medications or natural therapies can treat it most of the time.
Stool color may range from bright red to black depending on the part of gut affected. Presence of excess mucus or blood clots must ring warning bells in which you should consult your doctor immediately.
If your heart starts racing or if you feel weak after passing a lot of blood in stool, you must rush to the emergency because these are life-threatening symptoms.
The condition may not be the same for everyone and you might have blood in stool due to a minor health issue which can be easily treated.
Let’s find out in detail about this condition along with its causes, treatment, and precautions.
What does blood in stool mean?
The standard color of stools is light to dark brown. Hematochezia, a medical term for the presence of fresh blood in stool, can be caused by a variety of conditions like active bleeding in our gut, piles (hemorrhoids), and hookworm infestation.
Under no circumstances is the presence of blood in stool normal. The amount of blood varies from being almost invisible to alarmingly copious amounts.
The color of blood alters from bright red to black depending on the location of bleeding. Stomach ulcers produce black colored stool because acid reacts with blood components to produce black colored substances.
Passage of black, tarry stools is known as Malena. (1) Lower GI bleeds like hemorrhoids are bright red to maroon. Hematochezia can be associated with pain, vomiting, cramps or it can be completely symptomless.
Signs and symptoms to look for
Usually, the presence of blood in stool itself rings warning bells, and the patient goes to a physician. Depending on the underlying cause, it is associated with different signs and symptoms. (2)
- Abdominal pain and cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea and excess mucus production (while a small amount of mucus is normal, copious amounts indicates an illness) (3)
- Weight loss
- Breathing difficulty
- Heart palpitations
Causes of blood in stool
As mentioned earlier, the color of blood in stool depends on the location of abnormality in your gut. Hematochezia is the passage of bright red to maroon colored blood due to injury to the lower gut, i.e., small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus. It has various causes like –
- Abnormal blood vessels
- Hemorrhoids (piles)
- Anal fissure
- Bowel ischemia (reduced blood supply)
- Intestinal infection
- Mechanical damage due to trauma or foreign body
- Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s diseases, Ulcerative colitis)
- Polyps or cancer in the small or large intestine
Malena is the passage of black, tarry stools which occurs when the upper part of your gut (esophagus or stomach) is affected. The conditions leading to Malena are as follows – (4)
- Bleeding stomach ulcer (can be infected with H. pylori)
- Abnormal blood vessels
- Tear in the esophagus due to excessive vomiting (Mallory Weiss syndrome, Boerhaave syndrome) (5)
- Mechanical damage due to trauma or foreign body
- Bowel ischemia
- Esophageal varices (wide and weakened vessels at the junction between the esophagus and stomach)
Natural remedies for blood in stool based on the condition
1. Bleeding gastric ulcer
Long-standing ulcers in your stomach damage the nearby vessels and lead to the presence of blood in your stool or vomit. Blood loss will lead to various complications, like weakness, iron deficiency anemia, and hypovolemic shock, if timely remedial measures are not taken.
Your gut can’t withhold much strain in such conditions, and hence, it’s better to eat small diets at frequent intervals rather than heavy meals.
You must avoid spicy food, caffeine, alcohol, refined sugars, and allergens which can cause inflammation and aggravate your condition. A diet high in fibers, green vegetables, fermented sugars, and probiotics (kimchi, coconut kefir) are beneficial.
A study published in the Western Journal of Medicine showed that fresh cabbage juice promotes the healing of peptic ulcers. (6)
Gastritis is primarily a chronic inflammatory condition of the stomach wall. Free radicals produced by inflammatory cells damage the mucosal lining of the stomach hence, causes bleeding either via stool or vomit.
A healing diet which consists of fruits, vegetables, high-quality proteins and omega-3 fatty acids alleviates the damages caused in gastritis. Fennel, vitamin C, vitamin B12, fibers, and electrolytes taken as supplements are also beneficial in restoring the stomach wall integrity.
Licorice root contains glycyrrhizic acid which has anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-tumor, and anti-microbial properties. Taking licorice supplements soothes the irritated gastric mucosa hence, helps in preventing gastritis and gastric ulcers. (7)
However, you must consult your doctor before consuming licorice if you have a high BP. An essential piece of advice which most people tend to overlook is to lessen your stress levels and keep at least a three to four hours gap between your dinner and sleep time.
Diverticula are small pouches in the wall of our colon. Food lodgement and superseding infections in these pouches may result in intense inflammation which presents itself as bloody stools and abdominal pain. This is known as diverticulitis. (8)
Research shows that a high fiber diet, when ingested regularly, reduces the constitutional symptoms of diverticulitis. On the other hand, high fat and low fiber diets further deteriorate the condition. (9)
Bone broth and protein powder can successfully alleviate the problems associated with diverticulitis. Another study published in the Archives of Family Medicine reveals that chronic use of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) intensifies the symptoms of diverticulitis, especially internal GI bleeding. (10)
4. Ulcerative colitis
Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease in which the top layer of the gut, known as mucosa, is eroded by inflammatory cells and free radicals.
It results in abdominal pain and blood in stools, consequently increasing the chances of getting colon cancer due to continuous irritation.
Avoid high fiber diets and raw vegetables as they require more work to digest. Spicy foods, carbonated drinks, caffeine, processed dairy products and refined sugars also aggravate the damage to the already weakened gut wall.
Food items rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and soya beans must be included in your diet.
Research shows that curcumin, the active component of turmeric, helps to prolong the remission of ulcerative colitis in some patients. (11) Turmeric is available in the market as raw roots, powder, and supplements.
Mental stress and disturbed sleeping pattern can significantly worsen the free radical damage in inflammatory bowel diseases. (12)
5. Crohn’s disease
Crohn’s disease is a type of autoimmune condition in which our immune system attacks specific cells in our gut. This leads to many problems like diarrhea, cramps, bloody stools, malabsorption and increased risk of bowel perforation.
Various herbs like slippery elm, fenugreek, devil’s claw, and Mexican yam contain anti-oxidants which reduce the harmful free radicals produced in the gut due to immune and inflammatory reactions.
Slippery elm also acts as a demulcent, and when mixed with water, it forms a gel-like substance which soothes the irritated tissues. (13)
Conventional therapies for blood in stool
Once your physician builds a provisional diagnosis from your history and clinical examination, he performs further investigations to get to the root of the problem. Following are the investigation procedures for bloody stools – (14)
- Complete blood work-up
- Barium study
- Upper endoscopy
- Double balloon endoscopy (can reach the parts of gut inaccessible to standard endoscopy and colonoscopy)
- Capsule endoscopy (a built-in camera which takes pictures of your GI tract as the capsule passes through)
- Laboratory stool examination and culture
- Tests to detect the presence of H. pylori
Treatment depends on the underlying cause and ranges from antibiotics for bacterial or parasitic infection to surgery to repair tears in the gut.
Precautions and warning signs
Many people often overlook painless blood in stool since it doesn’t come in the way of their everyday work. What most people don’t know is that colon cancers usually don’t have any symptoms other than bloody stools.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the USA (skin cancers excluded). (15) It is normal to pass reddish stools after enjoying some tomatoes and beets.
Black licorice and blueberries may lead to black stools if ingested in bulk. Iron pills and bismuth medicines like Pepto-Bismol also cause black stools which can be alarming.
You don’t have to worry about these situations because this change in your stool color has no significance and is entirely harmless. (16)
If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned below, you need to consult your doctor immediately.
- A significant amount of blood in stool
- Tachycardia (faster heart rate)
If you pass huge amount bloody mucus in your stools, you need to consult your physician as you may have a severe problem like ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease or even cancer.
Points to take home on blood in stool
The presence of blood in stool is just the tip of a dangerous iceberg in which a myriad of diseases like – gastric ulcer, inflammatory bowel disease, hemorrhoids or even cancer reside.
You must pay special attention to the color and amount of blood, consistency, and frequency of stools, and the amount of mucus excreted as these are of paramount importance for the diagnosis of GI abnormalities.
In addition to the conventional therapies available in the market, a vast array of healing foods exists which can alleviate the symptoms of gut problems. Dietary fibers, fruits, vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids soothe the injured tissues.