Gastrointestinal Bleeding

What is gastrointestinal bleeding?

Gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding may occur in any part of your digestive tract. This includes your esophagus, stomach, intestines, rectum, or anus. The bleeding may or may not be seen easily. Bleeding may be sudden and last only a short time, or it may go on for a long time and occur more than once.

What causes GI bleeding?

  • Ulcers caused by H pylori infection, NSAIDs, or alcohol abuse

  • Inflammation of the esophagus, lining of the stomach, or intestines

  • Growths of tissue called polyps

  • Diseases such as Crohn disease, colitis, cancer, or diverticulosis

  • Hemorrhoids or an anal fissure (tear in the lining of the rectum)

What are the signs and symptoms of GI bleeding?

Your symptoms depend on where the bleeding is, what is causing it, and how much blood you lose. If you are only losing a small amount of blood, you may not have any symptoms.

  • Vomiting with blood (bright red, dark red, or black), or vomit that looks like coffee grounds

  • Bloody or black tarry bowel movements, or bleeding from your rectum

  • Cramping or pain in your abdomen

  • Extreme fatigue, weakness, lightheadedness, or confusion

  • Shortness of breath

  • Heartbeat is faster than usual

  • Pale skin or gums, and sweaty or clammy skin

  • Dry mouth, increased thirst, or urinating less than usual

How is GI bleeding diagnosed and treated?

  • The tests and treatment you receive will depend upon where the bleeding is and how severe it is. Your caregiver will ask questions about your health and the medicines you take. You may need to go into the hospital for tests and treatment.

  • Your GI bleeding may stop on its own. You may need a procedure called an endoscopy to find or treat your bleeding. An endoscope is a bendable tube with a light and camera on the end. This scope can be passed into your digestive tract through your mouth or rectum, depending on where your bleeding may be. You may need a blood transfusion if you have lost a lot of blood. Medicines or surgery may be used to stop the bleeding.

When should I contact my caregiver?

  • You have bowel movements that are tarry or black.

  • You have abdominal pain or swelling, nausea, or vomiting.

  • You have heartburn or other signs of stomach acid problems.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • There is blood in your vomit, or your vomit looks like coffee grounds.

  • You feel like you are going to have a bowel movement, but pass only blood or blood clots into the toilet.

  • You have any of the following signs of shock or blood loss:

    • Chest pain

    • Dizziness or fainting, especially after suddenly moving from a sitting or lying position

    • Confusion or shortness of breath

    • Weakness that is so bad you cannot stand

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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