A gastrointestinal (GI) hemorrhage is bleeding that occurs in the GI tract anywhere from the mouth to the anus. This serious bleeding condition is usually classified into upper GI and lower GI bleeding. Upper GI bleeding is bleeding from the esophagus, stomach, and part of a small intestine. Lower GI bleeding involves the lower small intestine, large intestine, anus, and rectum. While concerning, treatment options are available to get GI hemorrhages safely under control.
Overt and occult bleeding
The presentation of GI hemorrhage is classified into overt or occult bleeding. Overt bleeding means the GI bleed is visible to the naked eye. Overt bleeding signs include vomiting blood, black and tarry stool, and rectal bleeding. Vomiting can also have a coffee-ground texture. Occult bleeding is not visible to the eye but can be identified by performing medical tests, such as a blood count. Occult bleeding presents with symptoms such as abdominal or chest pain, lightheadedness, fainting, and trouble breathing.
Emergency symptoms to not ignore
Losing a lot of blood suddenly is an emergency, as this can put a person’s life at risk. Being aware of the symptoms of shock is crucial to get help as soon as possible. A person going into shock can experience low blood pressure, an increase in pulse, disturbance in urinating, and unconsciousness.
Control GI bleeding
The treatment of GI hemorrhage depends on the specific cause and bleeding site. In the case of an ulcer or infection, the doctor may prescribe medications. In most cases, procedures such as endoscopy or colonoscopy are carried out. These procedures allow the doctor to visualize the problem, inject medication, remove abnormal growths, and close the blood vessels with a band or clipping. If the GI bleed is acute or if the bleeding does not stop, then the healthcare provider may recommend laparoscopic surgery.
Preventing a bleed
To decrease the risk of GI bleeding, individuals can take preventative steps such as quitting tobacco and limiting alcohol intake. Limit the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or consider alternatives. If symptoms arise, get checked for possible infections such as helicobacter pylori which can lead to ulcers. Most importantly, if any abnormal bleeding is identified, seek prompt care from a doctor. The overall prognosis in most patients is good if the bleed is caught early.
GI bleeding is an emergency that should not be taken lightly. Once at the hospital, the healthcare providers will identify the cause and find a way to stop the bleeding. If needed, further interventions may be required based on the cause and location of the bleeding.