Hematochezia is the technical term for passing stool with blood in it. It is distinguished from melena, passing dark, tarry stool which contains digested blood, and from bleeding around the anus, which causes bright red blood. In patients with hematochezia, the blood indicates that there is bleeding somewhere in the lower part of the intestinal tract. It can be indicative of a number of medical problems, and can be a cause of concern.
One of the most worrying causes of hematochezia is colon cancer, which can cause blood to appear in the stool as the cancer spreads, since many cancerous tumors bleed. Irritable bowel disease can also cause hematochezia, which can be a concern when it is causing bleeding ulcerations in the lower intestine. Extremely large upper gastrointestinal tract bleeds can also result in bloody stool.
Hemorrhoids are another common reason for people to have bloody stool, as is diverticulosis. Polyps in the bowel, whether or not they are benign, can also lead to the development of hematochezia. Likewise, foreign objects in the bowel can cause bleeding because they may cut the bowel walls. This is a definite cause for concern, as a ruptured bowel is something which requires surgical attention.
Bowel ischemia, in which the supply of blood to part of the bowel is cut off, may cause bloody stools as well. Ischemia is worrying because the tissue which has been cut off can die from lack of blood, which can lead to an abdominal infection. Likewise, trauma may cause bleeding, in which case it is very important to find out where the bleed is located, so that it can be addressed. This may require surgery to explore the bowel and check for signs of damage, in addition to checking for other internal bleeding which could have been caused by the trauma.
When people notice blood in their stool, they should call a doctor. The doctor or a nurse will ask a few questions to determine whether or not the patient needs to come in. In some cases, the doctor or nurse may decide that the patient does not need attention unless the issue persists, or that the issue is not an emergency, so the patient can come in for a routine appointment when one becomes available. In other cases, hematochezia can be cause for a visit to the emergency room for immediate diagnosis and treatment by hospital staff.