Rectal bleeding is a symptom of a wide range of medical conditions, ranging from hemorrhoids to inflammatory bowel diseases. If you experience it, it can be alarming, but there are a number of things you can do to alleviate the situation, including adjusting your diet.
Understanding Rectal Bleeding
Rectal bleeding may seem like a severe symptom, but the Mayo Clinic notes that the causes can range from mild conditions to severe medical situations. The list is long and includes things such as constipation, hemorrhoids, anal fissures, diarrhea, colon polyps, diverticulosis, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's disease, cancer and more. However, according to the Cleveland Clinic, about 98 percent of rectal bleeding cases are due to hemorrhoids or anal fissure.
Rectal bleeding can also vary in severity, the Cleveland Clinic notes. It may appear as a spot of red on toilet paper or toilet water that turns completely red. It also can vary in color, from bright red to maroon to dark red, depending on the specific cause of the bleeding.
In all cases, however, the clinic notes that rectal bleeding can be serious and is worth a visit with your doctor. Appropriate treatment will depend on what your doctor determines to be the underlying cause of the bleeding. If it's due to hemorrhoids or anal fissures, treating those underlying issues should put a stop to the bleeding.
The Impact of Foods
The foods you eat can cause or prevent rectal bleeding, as well. For example, the Cleveland Clinic emphasizes that eating a high-fiber diet and staying well hydrated are both critical steps in preventing rectal bleeding by allowing you to have regular bowel movements without straining.
"Increasing fiber and fluids can help soften stools and lessen any strain on the rectum during a bowel movement," says Mary Opfer, RD, CDN, a dietitian and nutritionist in private practice in Somers, New York. "Fiber can be found in fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains and beans."
Read more: List of Foods High in Soluble Fiber
Cedars-Sinai notes a few other ways that specific foods and diet can impact rectal disorders. Eating on a regular schedule, for example, helps prevent constipation, while more moderate portions prevent excessive food waste and discomfort.
Other diet-based strategies to improve rectal bleeding include relaxing while you eat, avoiding standing or sitting for long periods of time and exercising regularly, adds Cedars-Sinai. All of these steps can help promote a healthy digestive process and prevent problems that can lead to constipation, hemorrhoids and ultimately rectal bleeding.
If you experience rectal problems such as bleeding, it may also help to monitor your diet in order to determine which foods might be causing problems. Dairy products, as well as fatty or sugary foods, for example, may cause constipation and gas and lead to other rectal problems. Some people may require fiber supplements in order to prevent rectal problems, although Cedars-Sinai says it's best to avoid stimulant laxatives that can cause irritation.
Among foods that may contribute to rectal bleeding are spicy foods, notes Nadia Khan, MD, a doctor of internal medicine at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Wheaton, Illinois. "Spicy food may exacerbate anal fissures that can lead to bleeding," she says.
Foods for Healing
Some foods can have a secondary effect on your rectal health, according to Opfer. "Increasing vitamin C intake from foods like carrots, cantaloupe and sweet potatoes helps with skin integrity," she says.
"I'd also include protein-rich foods for healing the rectal area. Finally, a deficiency in flavonoids may promote or exacerbate bleeding tendencies." Common food sources of flavonoids, she says, include blueberries, apples, tea, onions, kale, broccoli, citrus fruits, legumes and soy.
Is This an Emergency?
- Mayo Clinic: “Rectal Bleeding”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Rectal Bleeding”
- Cleveland Clinic: “What to Do If You Have Rectal Bleeding (With or Without Pain)”
- Mary Opfer, RD, CDN, dietitian and nutritionist, private practice, Somers, New York
- Cedars-Sinai: “Anorectal Disorders – For Patients”
- Nadia Khan, MD, internist, Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, Wheaton, Illinois