Noticed a recent change in the colour of your stools? Perhaps it turned up a shade of red or even black? If so, it is unsurprising for you to be worried. Off-colour stools can be indicative of trouble in your digestive system and other serious health condition.
Principles behind blood in stools
Blood in stools is most often caused by bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT). And as with any other part of your body, this bleeding is caused by "injuries". In the case of the GIT, injuries are equivalent to tears long the mucosa of your intestinal walls — either deep or superficial ones.
There are a variety of reasons for blood in your stools, and the potential reasons can be narrowed down according to the shade/ colour of blood in your stools. Bright red blood indicates that it's fresh and that it occurred somewhere lower down in your GIT. On the other hand, melena/dark blood indicates that the cause of bleeding is higher up in the GIT; the blood is digested during its passage down the GIT which causes it to appear dark.
Causes of blood in stools
Here are some potential causes of blood in stools. While some can be easily treated, others can be downright fatal if left unaddressed.
Haemorrhoids are one of the commonest causes of blood in stools and are formed by significant dilation of blood vessels at the anorectal canal. They tend to be cause by increased lower intra-abdominal pressure from pregnancy, obesity or straining upon passing motion. Upon further frictional forces when passing motion, the haemorrhoids might get "injured", causing fresh bleeding into stools.
2. Anal fissures
It is not difficult to understand why tears in the anorectal canal can cause fresh bleeding into stools. These tears might have been caused by difficulty passing motion or rough cleaning of the perineal region. This condition is not a big cause of concern and can be prevented by ensuring a sufficient intake of fibre and water.
Apart from the common symptoms of gastroenteritis (such as nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting), certain strains of bacteria contain toxins which cause their hosts to have bloody diarrhoea (also known as dysentery). Your doctor might suspect this if you have recently travelled to a place where such infections are endemic.
4. Polyps and cancer
Polyps are little growths from layers of your GIT and though initially benign, they might eventually become malignant. In fact, colorectal cancer is the most common cancer among males in Singapore today. They can be diagnosed via colonoscopy and treatment varies according to findings from the diagnostic tests.
5. Colitis/ Crohn's disease
Crohn's disease and colitis are both subtypes of inflammatory bowel disease, and they are more prevalent in the Caucasian population. The reason behind these diseases are still unknown but there currently are medications to keep the condition under good control.
6. Congenital disorders (Meckel's diverticulum)
Meckel's diverticulum is the most common congenital disorder of the GIT and is caused by an abnormal outpouching of all layers of the GIT. Rubbing against the outpouching might create a tear, thus leading to blood in stools. If severe, doctors might consider correcting the condition via surgery.
Bloodied stools are an unsettling condition, so there's no reason why you shouldn't pay a visit to your doctor should an incident arise. With that being said, practicing proper nutrition and staying active can help to minimise the risk of encountering such a dilemma. There's no reason you should have your gut bleed for you!