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What Are Melenic Stools?

By Madeleine A.
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The term melenic stools is sometimes used to refer to black, tarry stools or blood in stools. In addition, melenic stools may indicate a digestive symptom disorder or injury. Although black, tarry stools often indicates the presence of blood in the stool, a condition called hematochezia also refers to maroon- or red-colored stools. Generally, blood in the stool can originate from anywhere in the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus.

Generally, melenic stools indicate that blood is originating in the upper portion of the gastrointestinal tract. This part of the gastrointestinal system includes the esophagus, beginning of the small bowel, and the stomach. When stools take on a tarry appearance, it means that they have been exposed to digestive juices. Sometimes ulcers in the stomach caused by certain medications can cause bleeding of the upper gastrointestinal tract.

Usually, bright red stools indicate that blood is originating from the lower gastrointestinal tract, which encompasses the rectum, large bowel, and anus. Certain conditions such as diverticulosis and hemorrhoids can cause frank blood in the stool. Infrequently, abnormal blood vessels and tumor formation can cause lower gastrointestinal bleeding. Sometimes, rapid or massive stomach bleeding can cause bright red stools. Certain medications such as Pepto-Bismol® and iron supplements can cause melenic stools, which is usually transient and harmless.

Sometimes, certain foods can cause melenic stools. These foods include black licorice and blueberries or blackberries. Tomatoes and beets can mimic the appearance of blood in stools and in cases like these, a physician can perform a test on the stool to rule out melena. Other causes of melenic stools are gastritis, which is an inflammation of the lining of the stomach and bowel ischemia. Typically, bowel ischemia causes the intestines to lack adequate blood flow, causing bleeding. Rarely, a foreign body or trauma to the gastrointestinal tract can produce melenic stool.

Treatment for melenic stools depends on the cause. Determining the source of blood in the stools necessitates a complete physical examination and possibly blood tests that include a complete blood count. Melena may cause anemia, which may be indicated by a decrease in red blood cells. Other diagnostic tests may include an upper and lower GI series, ultrasonography and stool specimen testing. Although blood in the stool can indicate a harmless condition, other, more ominous conditions need to be ruled out before a diagnosis can be effectively made.

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Discussion Comments

By anon991631 — On Jul 05, 2015

Melanin is the natural pigment in the body that gives color to skin, hair and eyes. So technically, the term "melanotic stool" is not linguistically correct. The accurate term is "melaenic" which means abnormally dark feces caused by a digestive disorder/injury. Most doctors insist on using the term "melanotic stool" however and medical transciptionists have to fix it later. It does appear that "melanotic stool" will remain the most common usage for now.

By seag47 — On Aug 20, 2011

I started crying when I saw blood on my toilet paper after a bowel movement. It was so bright, and there was so much of it!

I knew I didn’t have hemorrhoids, because I didn’t have pain at all. I got really scared thinking of all the things it could be, so I went in for an exam.

My doctor discovered that I had colon polyps. The bigger they are, the greater the risk of developing cancer, and mine were pretty big.

I had them removed. I didn’t want to leave them there and risk developing cancer later in life.

By lighth0se33 — On Aug 19, 2011

I eat a lot of blackberries and blueberries, and I often have black stools. I had never really thought of it as a problem, because to me, that is the normal color of feces.

Ever since I was a kid, I have had a fruit smoothie for breakfast. If it was blueberry, I would have a bowl of blackberries on the side, and if it was a blackberry smoothie, I would eat a serving of blueberries with it. I have always loved the flavor of both, and I feel so healthy while eating them.

I often bake the berries into muffins for snacks. I make cobblers out of them for dessert. So, I consume way more of them than the average person.

I would have probably been worried if my stools were brown. I don’t remember a time when they ever have been.

By wavy58 — On Aug 18, 2011

I was very concerned when I had a bowel movement with bright red blood. I thought I might have some horrible condition, like cancer.

My mother told me that since my stools were not melanotic, the blood must have come from the lower intestinal tract. That eased my mind a little, but still, I wanted my doctor to check it out.

He examined me and found that I had both hemorrhoids and diverticulitis. Both conditions were causing me to have blood in my stools.

Diverticulitis and hemorrhoids are both chronic conditions, so I just have to take medicine to alleviate the symptoms as they arise. Though both can be painful at times, I can take relief in knowing that something worse isn’t wrong with me.

By shell4life — On Aug 18, 2011

I had melanotic stools because of my stomach ulcers. I knew I had the ulcers, because my doctor had already found them, and he told me I might have tarry stools, so I wasn’t worried when it happened.

It’s amazing what all stress can do to the human body. My good friend had died, and my mental state began to affect me physically. I was so troubled by her death and the circumstances surrounding it that I developed ulcers in my stomach.

I am currently taking a couple of medications. One is helping me deal with the grief and stress, and the other is healing my ulcers. Soon, my melanotic stools should go away.

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