Gastrointestinal bleeding

Specialty of Hepatology (liver specialist)

What is gastrointestinal haemorrhage?

Gastrointestinal haemorrhage, otherwise known as GI bleeding, is bleeding that occurs in the digestive system. Bleeding that occurs in the oesophagus, stomach or small intestine is known as an upper gastrointestinal haemorrhage, whereas bleeding in the rest of the small intestine, colon, rectum or anus is known as a lower gastrointestinal haemorrhage. Bleeding can sometimes be life-threatening, and is related to an underlying disorder in the gastrointestinal system.

What are the symptoms of gastrointestinal haemorrhage?

Gastrointestinal haemorrhage can be detected with the presence of blood in the stool, although other symptoms may occur:

  • tarry and dark stools
  • large amounts of blood coming out of the rectum
  • vomiting blood

What are the causes of gastrointestinal haemorrhage?

Gastrointestinal haemorrhage can be caused by a number of conditions, some of which are minor, such as:

More serious or long-term conditions which can cause bleeding include:

In some cases, bleeding can be a sign of a cancerous condition such as:

How is gastrointestinal haemorrhage diagnosed?

You should seek immediate medical advice if you have blood in your stool or have vomited blood. They will take a full medical history and will usually refer you for tests, including:

What is the treatment for gastrointestinal haemorrhage?

Gastrointestinal haemorrhage may require immediate primary attention. Emergency treatment may involve:

  • blood transfusions
  • intravenous fluids and medications.
  • gastric lavage (placing a tube to the stomach to empty the contents)

Once the condition is stabilised and your blood levels have returned to normal, treatment will depend on the cause of the bleeding.

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