Blood in your stool – a cause for alarm?

Seeing blood in your stool could send you into a bit of a panic, but how do you know if it warrants a trip to your doctor or specialist?

Common causes of bleeding from the anal region include haemorrhoids and fissures.
Common causes of bleeding from the anal region include haemorrhoids and fissures.

If you see blood in your stool, it's natural to worry. But the condition is more common than you think. 

Rectal bleeding can indicate something wrong in your gut, or just a superficial tear in your anus. The condition is not always associated with pain either. 

Senior colorectal surgeon at Ho Kok Sun Colorectal Pte Ltd, Mt Elizabeth Medical Centre, and a member of the Alliance Healthcare network, Dr Ho Kok Sun, shares some pointers about this condition. 

What are the causes of blood in the stool?

Blood in stool can come from a superficial tear near the anus or from higher up in the colon and rectum. Typically, bleeding caused by a superficial tear occurs during bowel movements, and hence the blood looks fresh. This may or may not come with pain and discomfort at the anus.

Common causes of bleeding from the anal region include haemorrhoids and fissures. Anal fissure is usually characterised by sharp pain during bowel movements, while haemorrhoids can vary from painless bleeding, to discomfort, to a burning sensation when passing motion.

Blood from higher up in the colon and rectum usually appears as stale or dark blood. Occasionally, the blood might have clotted into solid pieces. Passing out stale blood is more worrisome, as there might be a possibility of more serious conditions. There is usually no pain or discomfort at the anus in these cases.

What should I do if I notice blood in my stool?

Don't panic. Observe the pattern of bleeding and the extent of pain; they can give you a good idea of the cause of bleeding.

If the blood is bright red, it is likely due to a superficial wound near the anus, especially if the stool is hard and painful to pass. If bleeding occurs frequently and lasts for more than a few days, it is advisable to seek help from a medical specialist.

When the blood in stool appears dark in colour, it is likely that bleeding has occurred higher up in the digestive tract. Specialist help should be sought straightaway.

What can I expect when I visit a specialist?

Your specialist will look into the nature of the bleeding, associated symptoms such as pain, and family medical history. He or she may also do a physical examination to look for probable causes. These steps help the specialist assess the risk of more serious conditions and recommend further tests if necessary.

What kind of specialist should I look for?

Both medical specialists, such as gastroenterologists and colorectal surgeons, and general surgeons can evaluate and treat rectal bleeding.

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As part of a collaboration between Aviva and Alliance Healthcare, Aviva MyShield customers can enjoy expedited appointments – within 3 working days – with over 200 medical specialists.  Nine out of 10 specialists in this network have at least 12 years of medical experience.

Here is a list of general surgery specialists that you may contact if you require screening for blood in your stool or other colorectal problems:

To view the full list of all specialists or make an appointment, go to www.aviva.com.sg/health-first

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