Gastrointestinal bleeding or blood when a child passes stool can be, but is not necessarily, a sign of a serious health problem. However, Johns Hopkins Children's Center underscores the importance of finding the source of the bleeding. Bleeding can come from different areas in the digestive or gastrointestinal tract. Although your child's doctor will start with a physical exam when diagnosing the cause, there are other procedures that can help locate the source of chronic bleeding.
Ulcerative colitis is a condition that can affect children as well as adults. A child who has ulcers in her digestive tract needs medical treatment. The condition presents with bloody mucus in a child's bowel movements, which are usually in the form of diarrhea. Children with ulcerative colitis can also experience fever and begin to lose weight. Parents should talk to a pediatrician if a child is experiencing any of these symptoms.
According to Seattle Children's Hospital, an anal fissure is the leading cause of blood in stools. More than 90 percent of children who have blood in stools without accompanying diarrhea have an anal fissure . You may only notice specks or spots of blood in your child's stool. Fissures cause bleeding when a child has a bowel movement, particularly if he has a hard bowel movement or passes a large amount of stool. Normally, the blood caused by an anal fissure is bright red. Call your child's pediatrician if there is a lot of blood, if bleeding occurs more than twice, your child vomits blood or has diarrhea, or your child has any blood in his stools and is younger than 12 weeks.
Intestinal infections can cause blood in a child's stool whether the infection is viral or bacterial in origin. Bleeding often occurs as a result of related frequent and severe diarrhea. Salmonella, Shigella and E. coli are common intestinal infections that can cause bloody stool in children. Diarrhea and bloody stool can also be symptoms of food poisoning.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Children who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, may have bouts of constipation and then suffer diarrhea. The condition is characterized by irregular bowel habits and can cause pain and discomfort. Some children with IBS have blood in their stools. Bleeding is usually caused by chronic diarrhea or from straining to have a bowel movement. The frequency of symptoms can fluctuate, sometimes disappearing for years only to return again later. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases points out that IBS is not life threatening, nor does it damage the bowel or develop into other chronic diseases.
Intestinal Tract Bleeding
Bleeding from the upper intestinal tract or stomach makes stool turn black or dark in color. Contact your child's pediatrician immediately if his bowel movements are tarry black. Sometimes stool turns black without bleeding if your child is taking iron supplements or certain other types of medication. Bleeding from the lower intestinal tract, which includes the large intestine and rectum, is bright red in color. Diarrhea is often the cause when food moves through the large intestine too quickly.
A baby who is breastfeeding may ingest blood when the mother's nipples are cracked. Although usually just a drop or two, this blood can then show up in the baby's stool after she has nursed.