Rectal bleeding is common, however, only about a third of patients who are affected seek advice or treatment. Although the cause is usually of no great medical significance, it is important to recognise that it is an abnormal symptom and can be due to more significant or very serious medical conditions like inflammatory bowel disease or bowel cancer.
Because of the potential seriousness, we would encourage any patient who notices bleeding to come and have this checked.
Bleeding may be bright red and only on the toilet paper or discolouring the lavatory pan, or it may be on the surface or mixed in the stool. Bright red blood usually indicates bleeding from the lower part of the colon, the rectum or the anus. Darker red or maroon blood usually indicates bleeding higher in the colon or the small bowel and malaena, very dark stools, ranging in colour from very dark red to black, indicates bleeding from the stomach wall, the upper part of the small bowel.
As part of the annual health check, faecal occult (hidden, non-visible bleeding) is tested for. This also forms part of the NHS bowel cancer screening programme offered to all 60-74 year olds.
Particularly in younger patients, the cause is likely to be something simple like haemorrhoids (small vulnerable veins in the rectum or the anus) or an anal fissure (a small tear in the lining of the anus), but we encourage all patients who notice any rectal bleeding to have this checked, as serious conditions, although more common in patients over 55, can occur in much younger patients.
Better to be safe than sorry.