Rectal bleeding refers to any blood that passes from the anus (where stool, or poop, exits the body). It can show up in the stool, on toilet paper, or in the toilet, and can range from bright red to almost black.
Kids can have rectal bleeding for different reasons, most of which are not serious.
More to Know
Different things can cause rectal bleeding; these are some of the most common:
- Anal fissures: These small tears are the most common cause of rectal bleeding in children. They can hapen when passing a large or hard stool, which stretches the lining of the anus until it tears, or when frequent diarrhea irritates the lining. The tears can cause pain or itching in the area, especially during and after a bowel movement (BM).
Fissures are very common in babies, and usually heal completely with basic care. In older kids and teens, the cuts can take several weeks or longer to heal and sometimes tear open again. The three F's (fluids, fiber, and fitness) and, in some cases, stool softeners can help make BMs easier to pass. Keeping the area clean and applying ointments can relieve pain and speed healing.
- Constipation: This is when someone has painful (hard, dry, and unusually large) or less frequent bowel movements (BMs). The three F's — fluids, fiber, and fitness — can help prevent and control most cases of constipation.
- Hemorrhoids: A frequent complaint of pregnant women, but not common among kids, these are varicose veins in the anus or rectum. They may bleed, itch, or sting, especially during or after a bowel movement. Again, fluids, fiber, and fitness can help prevent constipation (a leading cause of hemorrhoids) and control many instances of hemorrhoids.
- Polyps: These small growths of tissue in the lining of the rectum or colon may bleed during or after a bowel movement.
More serious causes of rectal bleeding include:
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which refers to two chronic diseases that cause inflammation of the intestines: ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Both can cause frequent diarrhea, so blood often appears in the stool. In severe cases, continued small amounts of blood loss can lead to anemia.
- Intestinal infections caused by bacteria (such as shigella, salmonella, and campylobacter), viruses, or parasites. Many of these can be prevented with good hand-washing and food safety habits.
Sometimes, food allergies and blood-clotting problems also can lead to rectal bleeding.
Drinking plenty of fluids, eating foods with fiber, and exercising regularly can help treat and prevent constipation, hemorrhoids, and anal fissures. Keeping the area clean and applying ointments can relieve pain and speed healing. Rarely, a fissure doesn't heal and the doctor may recommend surgery.
Keep in Mind
The conditions that cause more serious cases of rectal bleeding will be treated by doctors. For instance, IBD is a chronic (long-term) condition that requires continuing care to help manage symptoms.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.