What is gastrointestinal bleeding?

Gastrointestinal Bleeding
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Gastrointestinal bleeding: Overview

The digestive or gastrointestinal tract goes from the mouth to the anus. It is often called the GI tract.

Bleeding can happen anywhere in the GI tract. It may be caused by an ulcer, an infection, or cancer. It may also be caused by medicines such as aspirin or ibuprofen.

Light bleeding may not cause any symptoms at first. But if you continue to bleed for a while, you may feel very weak or tired.

Sudden, heavy bleeding means you need to see a doctor right away. This kind of bleeding can be very dangerous. But it can usually be cured or controlled. The doctor may do some tests to find the cause of your bleeding.

How can you care for your child who has gastrointestinal bleeding?

  • Be safe with medicines. Have your child take medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think your child is having a problem with his or her medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • Do not give anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), without talking to your doctor first. Ask your doctor if it is okay to give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol).
  • Do not give your child two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • The bleeding may make your child lose iron. So it's important for your child to eat foods that have a lot of iron. These include red meat, shellfish, poultry, and eggs. They also include beans, raisins, whole-grain breads, and leafy green vegetables. If you want help planning meals for your child, you can meet with a dietitian.

What causes bleeding in the digestive tract?

Many things can cause bleeding in the stomach and intestines (digestive tract). For example, using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) on a regular basis can irritate the stomach lining and cause an ulcer. Colon polyps, colorectal cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease can also cause bleeding.

Gastrointestinal bleeding: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have sudden, severe belly pain.
  • You vomit blood or what looks like coffee grounds.
  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • Your stools are maroon or very bloody.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are dizzy or lightheaded, or you feel like you may faint.
  • Your stools are black and look like tar, or they have streaks of blood.
  • You have belly pain.
  • You vomit or have nausea.
  • You have trouble swallowing, or it hurts when you swallow.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.