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A to Z Symptom: Rectal Bleeding

What Is Rectal Bleeding?

When blood passes from the anus (where stool leaves the body) it’s called rectal bleeding. Blood can show up in the stool (poop), on toilet paper, or in the toilet, and can range in color from bright red to almost black. 

Kids can have rectal bleeding for different reasons — and it’s usually nothing to worry about.

What Causes Rectal Bleeding?

Common causes of rectal bleeding include:

  • Anal fissures: Sometimes when a child passes a large or hard bowel movement (BM), it can stretch the lining of the anus until it tears. This can also happen if frequent diarrhea irritates the lining. These small tears are the most common cause of rectal bleeding in children, especially babies.
  • ConstipationThis is when someone has painful (hard, dry, or unusually large) or less frequent BMs.
  • Hemorrhoids: These are varicose veins in the rectum that may bleed, itch, or sting, especially during or after a bowel movement.
  • Polyps: These small growths of tissue in the lining of the rectum or colon may bleed during or after a BM.

More serious causes of rectal bleeding include:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)which refers to two chronic diseases that cause inflammation of the intestines: ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Both can cause frequent diarrhea, so blood often appears in the stool.
  • Intestinal infections caused by bacteria (such as shigella, salmonella, and campylobacter), viruses, or parasites.

Sometimes food allergies and blood-clotting problems also can lead to rectal bleeding.

How Is Rectal Bleeding Treated?

Treatment depends on what’s causing the bleeding.

Make sure kids drink plenty of fluids, eat high-fiber foods, and exercise regularly to help treat constipation, hemorrhoids, and anal fissures. Keeping the area clean and applying ointments can help relieve pain and speed healing. Rarely, a fissure doesn't heal and the doctor may recommend surgery.

Conditions that cause more serious cases of rectal bleeding need a doctor’s care. For instance, IBD is a chronic (long-term) condition that needs ongoing care to help manage symptoms.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

Reviewed by: KidsHealth Medical Experts

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