Overview of Gastrointestinal Bleeding

Bleeding can occur throughout the digestive system (e.g., in the esophagus, stomach, intestines). In some cases, GI bleeding is serious and life threatening. For this reason, it is important to find the underlying cause for any bleeding in the GI tract.

Gastrointestinal bleeding can occur from a small area in the digestive tract (e.g., stomach ulcer, hemorrhoid) or from a large area (e.g., bowel inflammation). In some cases, bleeding occurs in such a small amount that it can only be detected by microscopic examination. This is called occult bleeding.

Types of GI bleeding include the following:

  • Esophagus
    • Bleeding caused by a tear in the lining of the esophagus (Mallory-Weiss syndrome; caused by vomiting, coughing, childbirth, hiatal hernia)
    • Esophageal bleeding caused by enlarged veins (often caused by cirrhosis of the liver)
    • Esophageal cancer
    • Esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus)
  • Stomach
    • Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach)
    • Stomach (gastric) cancer
    • Stomach ulcers (e.g., caused by Helicobacter pylori infection, medications [e.g., NSAIDs], alcohol abuse, stress)
  • Upper GI Tract (small intestine, or small bowel)
    • Duodenal ulcers (e.g., caused by Helicobacter pylori infection, NSAIDs)
    • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Lower GI Tract (large intestine, or colon, and rectum)
    • Colorectal cancer
    • Crohn's disease
    • Diverticular disease
    • Hemorrhoids (dilated veins in the rectum or anus)
    • Infection (e.g., bacterial, viral, parasitic)
    • Polyps (benign growths in the colon; may be pre-cancerous)
    • Ulcerative colitis

Blood "thinning" medications (e.g., warfarin [Coumadin, Jantoven, generics]) also can cause bleeding in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 28 Feb 2008

Last Modified: 17 Sep 2015