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Rectal bleeding

3-minute read

Bleeding from your back passage (anus) when you go to the toilet and pass faeces (poo) can occur for many different reasons. This is known as rectal bleeding.

You should always have rectal bleeding checked out by a doctor as it could be a sign of something serious. Seek urgent medical attention if the bleeding is very heavy, if you also have bad tummy pains, or if you have signs of shock like rapid, shallow breathing, dizziness, nausea or confusion.

But there are lots of reasons for rectal bleeding to occur, including:

The colour of your blood can indicate where in the gastrointestinal system the bleeding is coming from. For example, fresh, bright red blood can show the bleeding is coming from lower in the bowel, nearer to the back passage, which may be a sign of haemorrhoids, fissures or other localised conditions.

Bleeding in your large intestine (colon) may be fresh red or a darker red and mixed in with your faeces. One of the causes can be polyps, which are growths on the intestinal wall. Polyps are usually harmless, but some types can turn into more serious conditions such as bowel cancer. Polyps therefore need to be further investigated and assessed by a healthcare professional.

Faeces that are black, like tar, and that have a very bad smell may suggest a problem higher up in the gastrointestinal system - for example, in the stomach or duodenum - such as a bleeding ulcer.

It is very important that any bleeding from the gastrointestinal system is checked by a healthcare professional. Further assessments and tests may be needed to establish the cause of the problem.

Suspicion of deliberate harm

If there is any suspicion that rectal bleeding is not the result of an anal condition but is due to an injury inflicted on purpose, you should seek help from a healthcare professional as soon as possible. This could be from a nurse or doctor at a hospital emergency department, or a doctor’s surgery, or a health visitor or school nurse.

You can also search for local services and agencies that can offer confidential advice in the National Health Services Directory.

There is further information on the rectal bleeding treatments page.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about rectal bleeding, check your symptoms using healthdirect’s online Symptom checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self-care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2017

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