Should I be worried about blood in my stool?

Daniel Labow, MD
Surgical Oncology

Yes, you should be worried about blood in your stool. Blood in stool can be as simple as a small hemorrhoid or irritation or as serious as colon cancer. It is not normal to have blood in your stool, so it should be checked out right away. Schedule an appointment with your physician as quickly as possible to have problems addressed.

Blood in the stool may be caused by benign (noncancerous) diseases such as hemorrhoids or inflammation in the lining of the colon. However, it might also indicate a more serious condition such as colorectal cancer. Blood in the stool should always be reported to a physician, who can help decide whether further investigation is warranted.

Colorectal cancer is often present in people without symptoms, making prevention and screening for colorectal cancer very important. A polyp may be found and removed even before it becomes cancerous, and before a person develops symptoms.  Once symptoms appear, a colonoscopy may be performed to aid in diagnosis, rather than to screen for disease. The following signs or symptoms, however, might indicate colorectal cancer:
  • blood in the stool
  • narrower than normal stools
  • unexplained abdominal pain
  • unexplained change in bowel habits
  • unexplained anemia
  • unexplained weight loss
The presence of these symptoms is an indication to speak with a gastrointestinal specialist.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
A small amount of bright red blood is usually nothing to be alarmed about. It most likely indicates hemorrhoids, and just a single drop of blood can turn the whole bowl red.

You can detect microscopic levels of blood with an at-home hemoccult test, which is available at many pharmacies and can be done every year after age 40. Don't worry -- it's actually not as gross as it sounds; just follow the directions on the label. This test, as many at-home tests do, has false-positives, so you'll need to follow up with your physician (this week, not next year) if you do have a positive reading.

Blood can be a sign of many things, including a bleeding ulcer, gastritis, anal fissures, Crohn's disease or polyps or cancer in the colon. Doctors generally test for it as part of a routine physical. A colonoscopy -- recommended every three years for people ages 50-75, or starting younger for people with a family history of colon cancer -- can catch the pre-cancerous polyps before they lead to colon cancer.
YOU: The Owner's Manual, Updated and Expanded Edition: An Insider's Guide to the Body that Will Make You Healthier and Younger

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YOU: The Owner's Manual, Updated and Expanded Edition: An Insider's Guide to the Body that Will Make You Healthier and Younger

Between your full-length mirror and high-school biology class, you probably think you know a lot about the human body. While it's true that we live in an age when we're as obsessed with our bodies as...
Lisa Ganjhu, DO

Nothing’s more alarming than seeing a bit of blood on a tissue when you go to the bathroom. Check out this video with Dr. Janet Ganjhu, a gastroenterologist, to learn what passes for normal and what’s reason to head to the ER.

Blood in your stool is never normal. Blood on the toilet paper may simply be from hemorrhoids; however, it is extremely important to know that other serious diseases cause blood in the stool, in the toilet bowel, or on the toilet paper. Most importantly, these may also be symptoms of colorectal cancer and colon polyps. All rectal bleeding should trigger an evaluation by a gastroenterologist.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.