Causes of Digestive Tract Bleeding

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Digestive tract bleeding can range from somewhat minor to life-threatening. It can occur suddenly or over time. Many different things can cause digestive tract bleeding. Doctors need to determine the cause before they can properly treat the bleeding. Knowing what the possible causes are may help both doctors and patients diagnose and treat this type of bleeding quickly and efficiently.


Certain causes originate in the esophagus. Inflammation of the esophagus, also referred to as esophagitis, occurs when stomach acid is backing up into the esophagus. The associated inflammation may result in bleeding.

Tears in the esophageal lining may occur when a patient experiences chronic coughing, vomiting, or hiccuping. Severe vomiting and retching associated with the lower end of the esophagus, sometimes referred to as Mallory-Weiss syndrome, may also occur with a laceration which may result in bleeding.

Varices are veins that are abnormally large at the esophagus’ lower end.

Ulcers in the esophagus and esophageal cancer may also cause bleeding.


Certain causes originate in the stomach. Gastritis is a condition in which the stomach lining is inflamed. This condition comes on over time and it chronically persists.

Stomach ulcers may erode through a blood vessel, and enlarge, resulting in bleeding.

Stomach cancer may also cause bleeding.

Small Intestine

Certain causes originate in the small intestine. Peptic ulcers, also sometimes referred to as a duodenal ulcer, is a lesion or sore that develops in the duodenum or stomach lining. When the duodenal lining erodes, ulcers form. Small ulcers may not be noticed, but large ulcers can cause problems, such as serious bleeding.

Irritable bowel disease may cause bleeding because of associated inflammation. Irritable bowel disease affects the intestinal tract and is a chronic condition.

Cancer affecting any area of the small intestine may cause bleeding in the digestive tract.

Large Intestine and Rectum

Hemorrhoids are the leading cause of lower digestive tract bleeding. The blood associated with this cause is typically bright red. Hemorrhoids are located in the anal area and are enlarged veins. The bleeding occurs when they rupture or tear.

Crohn’s disease is a condition characterized by chronic inflammation. This inflammation may result in bleeding.

Diverticular disease is a condition characterized by the colon wall “pouching out”. This “pouching out” occurs due to inflammation affecting the intestinal wall resulting in an abnormal pouch. These pouches are typically seen in the colon.

Ulcerative colitis is a condition resulting in ulcers and inflammation affecting the large intestine’s lining’s top layers. Bleeding may be caused by small ulcerations and inflammation.

Colorectal cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the colon or rectum. Bleeding is a possible sign of this cancer.


National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. (2010). Bleeding in the Digestive Tract. Retrieved on November 19, 2010 from the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse:

MedlinePlus. (2009). Gastrointestinal Bleeding. Retrieved on November 19, 2010 from MedlinePlus: