Gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding is a symptom of a disorder in your digestive tract. The blood often appears in stool or vomit but isn't always visible, though it may cause the stool to look black or tarry. The level of bleeding can range from mild to severe and life-threatening.
Bleeding in the stomach or colon can usually be easily identified, but finding the cause of bleeding that occurs in the small intestine can be difficult. But sophisticated imaging technology can usually locate the problem, and minimally invasive procedures often can fix it.
GI bleeding can result from a number of digestive disorders, including:
GI bleeding can be visible in the form of vomiting blood, having bright red bloody stools or having black tarry stools (melena). Even a small amount of GI bleeding that isn't visible can cause a shortage of red blood cells in your blood (anemia) over time.
Pinpointing the source of GI bleeding can be especially difficult if it starts in the small intestine. When the source can't be identified, the term "obscure GI bleeding" is used.
Mayo Clinic doctors start by asking you about your symptoms and by doing a thorough physical examination and blood tests. This initial exam may be enough to indicate a cause of GI bleeding.
But if the source isn't obvious, Mayo Clinic doctors can use sensitive imaging technologies to find it. Results from one procedure determine the next procedure to use until the cause is determined.
Mayo doctors use these tests:
If your GI bleeding is severe, and noninvasive tests can't find the source, you may need surgery so that doctors can view the entire small intestine. Fortunately, this is rare.