Rectal Bleeding: Common Causes, and When to See a Doctor

Rectal Bleeding: Common Causes, and When to See a Doctor

Rectal bleeding isn’t uncommon. In fact, researchers estimate that millions of Americans experience rectal bleeding at some point during their lifetimes.

While most rectal bleeding isn’t linked to a serious problem, there are times when bleeding is a sign of a serious and even life-threatening medical issue. 

As a leading colorectal specialist, Michael H. Tarlowe, MD, is skilled in diagnosing the cause of rectal bleeding, providing prompt medical treatment focused on relieving symptoms and managing the underlying problem. In this post, Dr. Tarlowe reviews some of the most common causes of rectal bleeding to help you decide when to seek medical care.

Common causes of rectal bleeding

Rectal bleeding includes bright red blood left behind on toilet tissue following a bowel movement, as well as dark or “tar-like” stools. The type of bleeding depends in part on what’s causing it. Here are some possible causes:


Hemorrhoids are swollen veins around the anus. When hemorrhoids are irritated, they can bleed, especially if you strain when having a bowel movement or you’re constipated. Dr. Tarlowe offers several treatment options to help eliminate hemorrhoids and their symptoms.


Anal fissures are small cuts around the anus. Fissures are particularly common among people who are frequently constipated or who have hard stools. Tight sphincter muscles, certain medical conditions, and even pregnancy increase your risk of fissures, too.

Anal warts

Anal warts are genital warts that form around your anus. While some warts cause no noticeable symptoms, others can become sore and bleed.

Anal fistula

An anal fistula is a small tube or tunnel that forms between the outer area of your anus and an anal gland inside the rectum. Fistulae often form when a gland is blocked and an infected abscess forms. Without treatment, they can cause bleeding and other symptoms.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

IBD is a disease that causes chronic inflammation inside your digestive tract. There are two forms of IBD — ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease — both of which can cause bleeding.

Foreign object

When you swallow food, you expect it to travel through your digestive tract. But that’s true of non-foods, too, like bones from fish or chicken. Even inanimate objects, like plastic utensil parts or  wires from a grill brush, can lodge in your digestive tract where they can cause bleeding and life-threatening complications.


Diverticula are tiny pouches or bulges that form along the usually smooth wall of the colon. Diverticulitis happens when these small pouches become inflamed, causing symptoms like blood in your stool, pain, fever, nausea, along with changes in bowel habits.


Polyps are fleshy growths that form inside the colon. While most polyps are benign, some can develop into cancer. When polyps bleed over a long period of time, you can develop anemia.

Colon, rectal, or anal cancer

Colon, rectal, and anal cancer can all cause rectal bleeding, in addition to other symptoms like belly pain, bloating, and changes in bowel habits. Other symptoms may be more common in later stages of cancer, which is why early evaluation of any bleeding is so important.

Bleeding isn’t normal

While the cause of rectal bleeding may not be serious or life-threatening, it’s never normal. Occasional bleeding following a bout of constipation or after passing a hard stool is probably nothing to worry about. The same is true if you’ve been diagnosed with hemorrhoids. 

But if you have bleeding that’s chronic, recurrent, or accompanied by any type of pain, change in bowel habits, or fever, it’s vital to have it checked immediately. That’s because without a doctor’s evaluation, it’s impossible to tell what’s causing your bleeding symptoms. 

Delaying an evaluation can allow an underlying condition like infection, diverticulitis, IBD, or cancer to progress to a more serious stage. 

Fortunately, many causes of rectal bleeding can be diagnosed during a regular office visit. For more complex issues, Dr. Tarlowe may recommend a colonoscopy or other minimally invasive procedure to evaluate your colon or other areas of your gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Don’t ignore bleeding

If you have rectal bleeding — especially bleeding that’s chronic, recurrent, excessive, or accompanied by other unusual symptoms — don’t put off scheduling your evaluation. Call 954-210-7127 or request an appointment online with Dr. Tarlowe in Deerfield Beach, Florida, today.

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