Bleeding from the gastrointestinal (GI) tract ranges from an occasional small problem to a life-threatening event. All forms of bleeding require evaluation by a trained physician, as they may represent an more serious, underlying disorder.
Gastrointestinal tract bleeding is usually separated into upper (esophagus, stomach, small intestine) and lower (colon and anus). The most common causes of lower GI bleeding are:
- Diverticulosis (small areas of weakness in the colon wall that are prone to bleeding)
- Anal fissure (cut in skin of anus)
- Colorectal polyps or cancer
The diagnosis and evaluation of gastrointestinal bleeding usually involves the use of flexible endoscopy, including colonoscopy and upper endoscopy. A colonoscopy uses a small scope to visually examine the colon and rectum for polyps and tumors. It is a thin, flexible tube with a tiny fiber-optic video camera and a light inside its tip. It is about the thickness of an adult finger. The tube is flexible and can be maneuvered to investigate the interior surface of the colon. The camera sends magnified images of the colon to a television screen.
The colonoscope can be used to perform treatment as well as view the colon. Small surgical instruments, inserted through the colonoscope, can be used to remove small polyps, place clips or use other devises designed to stop areas of bleeding.