Rectal bleeding and changes in bowel habits

Rectal bleeding is bleeding from the lower colon or rectum. You may notice it in the toilet bowl, on tissue paper, or in your stools. The colour of blood is mostly bright red in colour, but can also be a maroon shade too. A darker colour of blood is an indication that it has likely come from higher in the colon or small bowel.


Common symptoms that accompany rectal bleeding include:

  • Pain and/or pressure in the rectal area
  • A stool that has a tar-like appearance
  • Fainting and feeling lightheaded


Most causes of rectal bleeding are relatively minor and easily treatable. They include haemorrhoids, anal fissure, anal fistula, bowel polyps (small growths on the inner lining of the colon or rectum) gastroenteritis, constipation and hard stools.

Haemorrhoids, swollen veins in the rectum or anus, are the single most common cause of bleeding from the rectum, and they are not considered to be a medical emergency.

Straining too hard while emptying your bowels can lead to rectal bleeding, and this is usually linked to constipation. Pushing too hard can cause other conditions such as haemorrhoids. This issue can be treated by adding more fibre to your diet, keeping hydrated, staying active and not ignoring the urge to go to the toilet.

More serious causes of rectal bleeding

It is important to consult a GP or a specialist if you are bleeding from the bottom. It is likely to be nothing serious to worry about, but there is a possibility that you may have cancer of the bowel, anus, rectum or colon. The only symptom of bowel cancer in its early stages may be rectal bleeding.

Upon consultation, a GP or a specialist would want to rule out other conditions too, such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) or diverticular disease.

Changes in bowel habits

There are several changes in bowel habits to be aware of, from a change in colour, the frequency that you are emptying your bowels, the inability to control them and the consistency of your stools.

If you are suffering from constipation, most usually indicated by straining when going to the toilet or not passing bowel movements at least three times a week, it is recommended that you contact your GP or a specialist. Similarly, if you have suffered from diarrhoea for longer than 24 hours, you should seek medical advice.

Severe abdominal pain, blood, mucus or pus in your stool and the inability to pass gas are all signs that your bowel habits have changed. Faeces that are sticky in consistency or a plum red colour may indicate a more serious underlying health condition, and again it is recommended that you seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Changes in bowel habit can be diagnosed in a number of ways. Diagnostic tests such as a CT scan to view bowel irregularities or an X-ray to view trapped air in the bowel may be used. Blood tests and a colonoscopy are other common tests to determine the causes of a change in bowel habit. Your specialist will be able to arrange these tests and will advise the most appropriate treatment.

To find out more or make an appointment with Mr Hornung, please call 0161 495 6148