Digestive Tract Bleeding Diagnosis

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Digestive tract bleeding may become serious so it is very important to have it evaluated as soon as possible. Making a digestive tract bleeding diagnosis may be a lengthy process, but it is important that the doctor accurately identifies the source of the bleeding. If digestive tract bleeding is suspected the patient should contact their physician for evaluation. If bleeding is obvious, emergency medical attention may be necessary.

Physical Examination

This is the first test that all doctors will do. If the patient is being evaluated in the emergency room, this will be done after the patient is properly stabilized. The doctor will fully examine the patient’s abdomen by using pressure, visually, and with a stethoscope. The physical exam will include all of the basics, such as checking the patient’s blood pressure, pulse, eyes, ears, temperature, and discussing his or her symptoms. Patient medical history will also be discussed.

Abdominal CT Scan

An abdominal CT scan is a type of diagnostic imaging that is capable of making cross-sectional images of the abdominal area. This x-ray is non-invasive, but in some cases, an IV is inserted so that the technician performing the scan can administer a contrast dye. This dye helps to enhance the images of of certain organs and diseases. For this test, the patient will lie down on a table and will be slid into the scanner’s center. The x-ray beam then rotates around the patient. Patient’s must be absolutely still to prevent image distortion. The scans only take a few minutes.

Abdominal MRI Scan

An abdominal MRI is a type of diagnostic imaging done to get detailed images of the internal abdominal area. For this non-invasive test, the patient will lie on a table and be slid into the machine. Like a CT scan, a contrast dye may be used and this will require an IV in order to get the dye into the patient. This dye makes the images more clear. In general, an MRI takes about an hour to complete.

Abdominal X-Ray

An abdominal x-ray is a type of diagnostic imaging in which pictures of the abdominal area are taken. The patient will lie on a table, be perfectly still, and hold their breath for each image. This test is completely painless and non-invasive. Each image only takes about a minute.


As part of a digestive tract bleeding diagnosis, a colonoscopy may be performed. This test is invasive and the patient will be administered pain killers and a sedative. They will lie in a position similar to the fetal position for this test. A colonoscope with a small camera on the end is carefully inserted into the patient’s anus and up to the small bowel’s lowest part. If any abnormal growths or tissues are present, the doctor can take a sample during this test for examination. Many patients do not even realize this test is being done, while some report experiencing discomfort. How long this test takes will depend on how many issues the patient has, but in general it takes about an hour to an hour and a half from start to finish.

Complete Blood Count

A complete blood count is performed to look at all of the blood cells in the patient’s body. It will let doctors know if any of the cell types are abnormal, low, high, or anything else that is not normal. This test only takes a few minutes and involves drawing blood from a vein. When the needle is inserted, minor discomfort is possible.

Other Possible Tests

In addition to the testing discussed above, other tests may be done to assess digestive tract bleeding. Such tests may include:

  • Angiography
  • Capsule endoscopy
  • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy
  • Sigmoidoscopy
  • Bleeding scan
  • Enteroscopy


National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. (2010). Bleeding in the Digestive Tract. Retrieved on November 19, 2010 from the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: https://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/bleeding/

MedlinePlus. (2009). Gastrointestinal Bleeding. Retrieved on November 19, 2010 from MedlinePlus: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003133.htm