Your stools may appear different shades of red when they contain blood. Bright red or maroon coloured stools may indicate active bleeding in the lower part of your gut, such as haemorrhoids. While a tarry, dark red stool may indicate that bleeding may be from the upper part of your gut, such as stomach ulcers.
You should reach out to your healthcare provider when your stools are red, as it may indicate a serious illness. Do not delay, especially if you have symptoms like stomach pain, stomach swelling, vomiting or dizziness.
The bloody or red coloured stools are mostly caused by bleeding inside your body that may happen due to the following:
- Injury to your stomach from an accident or sports injury.
- Swelling of your intestines when they are infected.
- Use of medicines that relieve pain, antibiotics or drugs that do not allow your blood to clot. Contact your healthcare provider for the best advice on these medications.
- Cancer of the stomach or intestines may cause you to bleed.
- Injury or tear to your anus. This is common in people who find it difficult to pass stools.
Other causes of red coloured stools may include the intake of foods containing colourings such as tomato sauce, beets, red cake icing, or red wine. This often resolves within a day or two.
A red coloured stool may not be a problem if it is caused by food or medicines. However, it is important to visit your doctor if you notice/have any of the following:
- You notice blood in your stool.
- You have other symptoms like abdominal swelling, pain and dizziness.
- You have difficulty in passing stools.
- You are vomiting blood.
You can prevent bloody or red stools by treating or continuing management of the underlying condition, including cancers, stomach or intestinal ulcers or infections in the intestines. Eat plenty of foods that are rich in fibres to make tour your stools come out more easily.
If there is an underlying cause, the following may be ways you can manage or prevent bloody stools:
- Importantly, the first line of treatment is for the healthcare provider to stop your bleeding. Self-care is not useful until bleeding is stopped.
- Drink enough water and eat foods that are rich in fibres such as vegetables (e.g. wild lettuce, bitter leaf, spinach and carrots), legumes (e.g. beans, peas) and fruits (e.g. mangos, pawpaw). This will make your gut work better and your stools come out more easily.
- Occasionally use stool softeners (available over-the-counter from pharmacies) to manage hard stools.
- Sitting in a bowl of warm water and salt mixture may relieve you of pain, itching or any injury to your anus.
- Your doctor may perform surgery on you to repair internal tissue damages or remove polyps in your digestive tract.
- Treating the underlying disease to prevent a reoccurrence is usually the next step after stopping the bleeding.
- Your health provider may prescribe antibiotics to treat infections.
- Your healthcare provider may recommend antacids that reduce flare-ups of gastric ulcers and anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce pain and bleeding.
- Use of chemotherapy to treat cancers and inflammatory bowel disease.
Even when bloody stools do not appear with any other symptom, it is important to see your healthcare provider quickly. Uncontrolled bleeding may cause shock and death. With appropriate care, the symptom can be controlled, leading to recovery.
Patients requiring surgery or chemotherapy may have a longer recovery time. While in other patients, change of diet and appropriate exercise, following your healthcare provider's intervention leads to a quick recovery.