If you notice blood in your toilet bowl or on your toilet paper after a bowel movement, you're likely to be concerned. There are many reasons your stool could contain blood, and while most causes are fairly harmless, blood can sometimes indicate a more serious condition.
Here, learn the causes of bloody stool, foods that cause stool to appear red and treatment options.
Video of the Day
What Causes Blood in Your Stool?
While certain foods and drinks can irritate your digestive tract lining and cause bloody stools, per Johns Hopkins, other red foods can create the illusion of bloody stool without any actual blood. Read below to learn more about possible causes.
What Foods Cause Red Stool?
Before you start panicking, certain red foods like tomato juice can cause red stool, or bloody-appearing stool.
"There are certain red foods that may cause the appearance of blood," says Daniela Jodorkovsky, MD, director of the Center for Gastrointestinal Motility and Physiology at Columbia University Medical Center, including:
Other foods, according to the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, can cause stool to appear darker than usual, including:
- Black licorice
- Large amounts of dark, leafy veggies
- Iron supplements
In this case, it's worth recalling what you've eaten recently to see if red or dark food is the culprit.
Can Food Cause Blood in the Stool?
Some foods, like coffee, can cause bloody stools by irritating your digestive tract lining, per Johns Hopkins. This can lead lead to swollen, irritated intestines — also known as gastritis.
Foods that can cause, or further, this type of irritation include:
You may also experience bloody stools after eating dairy products, such as milk, if you have an allergy, per the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI).
If you have food poisoning from expired or contaminated foods, you may experience blood in the stool. Talk with your doctor about the best course of treatment, and whether you need emergency care.
3 Other Possible Causes of Bloody Stool
That said, there are other causes for bloody stools beside food.
If you haven't eaten anything out of the ordinary recently, you might consider another cause for blood in your stool: constipation. If you've had trouble passing bowel movements, "there's a possibility that the hard stool may be irritating your anal tissue on its way out," says Donald Ford, MD, a Cleveland Clinic family medicine physician.
Hemorrhoids (swollen veins in your anus or lower rectum) are benign and treatable conditions. Internal hemorrhoids, while typically painless, can cause blood spotting and bloody stool on its way out, per Harvard Health Publishing.
3. Anal Fissures
Anal fissures (small tears in the lining of your anus) can form when you have constipation or diarrhea, resulting in bloody stool, per the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. Anal fissures can cause an itchy butt, burning and a visible crack on the anus.
What Should You Eat When You Have Blood in Your Stool?
If you find blood in your stool often, there are certain foods you can eat to reduce it, according to University of Utah Healthcare, including:
- Whole grains like wheat bran, corn bran and brown rice
- Vegetables like carrots, broccoli, cabbage and peas
- Fruits like apples, bananas, raspberries, peaches, prunes and pears
- Nuts and legumes like peanuts, lentils and kidney beans
In addition to eating these foods, aim to drink 8 to 10 cups of water per day and to get regular exercise.
When Should You Worry About Blood in Your Stool?
"Seeing blood in the stool is always alarming," Dr. Ford says. "While I would never turn a patient away if they came in with this concern, most occurrences are nothing to worry about."
Once you've ruled out constipation and red foods, bloody stool accompanied by abdominal pain, cramping, fever or diarrhea could indicate a more serious digestive issue — such as the inflammatory bowel diseases called Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, according to the Mayo Clinic.
In this case, a gastroenterologist may decide to run a test on your stool that identifies microscopic amounts of blood, called a fecal occult blood test, according to the Mayo Clinic. This can help narrow your diagnosis and provide accurate treatment.
That said, both Drs. Ford and Jodorkovsky point out certain elements can cause false positives or false negatives in the fecal occult blood test. These include red meat, turnips, broccoli, horseradish and vitamin C supplements.
It's important to avoid these foods and supplements for several days before the test.
Bright red stool could mean bleeding is coming from your lower digestive tract in your colon or rectum. Darker red or maroon stool could indicate bleeding in your upper digestive tract or your small intestine.
Black or tar-like stool could mean the bleeding is coming from your stomach and could possibly be a sign of ulcers, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Could Bloody Stools Mean Colon Cancer?
Because there are so many potential causes for blood in the stool — most of which are benign — it's better not to jump to the conclusion that you have cancer. Having said that, consistent bleeding or dark and tarry stool accompanied by changes in your bowel habits, or very narrow stool, could be a sign of colon cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
If you're experiencing pain, weakness or fatigue in addition to bloody stool, it's important to tell your doctor. Further tests, such as colonoscopies or CT scans, could help you get to the bottom of what you're seeing in the toilet bowl.
- Cleveland Clinic: "Rectal Bleeding"
- American Cancer Society: "Signs and Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer"
- Mayo Clinic: "Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Hemorrhoids and What to Do About Them"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Black or Tarry Stools"
- Mayo Clinic: "Fecal Occult Blood Test"
- Daniela Jodorkovsky, MD, director, Gastrointestinal Motility & Physiology and Program, and director, Gastroenterology Fellowship Program, Division of Digestive and Liver Diseases, Columbia University Medical Center, New York City
- Donald Ford, MD, MBA, family medicine physician, Cleveland Clinic, Mayfield Heights, Ohio
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Gastritis"
- University of Utah Healthcare: "Rectal Bleeding and Rectal Pain"
- University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics: "Stools with Blood"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.