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Bleeding in the Upper/Lower GI

  • What is Bleeding in the Upper/Lower GI?

    Gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding describes any bleeding that occurs in the GI tract, which extends from the mouth to the anus. GI bleeding is often a sign of a disorder of the digestive tract. The level of bleeding ranges from mild to life-threatening.

    The cause of GI bleeding is often difficult to find but the development of advanced imaging techniques now allows the location of the bleeding to be found.

    The bleeding can originate from any site in the GI tract but it is categorised into:

    • Upper gastrointestinal bleeding that can occur between the mouth and the duodenum (first part of the small intestine)
    • Lower gastrointestinal bleeding that can occur between the small intestine and the anus
  • Upper GI bleeding is usually caused by:

    • Peptic ulcers (open sores in the lining of the upper GI) which can wear away the artery and cause rapid bleeding
    • When an enlarged vein in the oesophagus bursts
    • Mallory-Weiss syndrome (tearing in the lining of the oesophagus) caused by alcohol abuse and gastroenteritis (stomach flu)

    Lower GI bleeding is caused by:

    • Benign (non-cancerous) tumours
    • Colorectal cancer
    • Haemorrhoids (piles)
    • Inflammation
    • Swelling of the colon due to ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
    • Polyps (benign growth in the lining of the colon or rectum)
  • The symptoms of GI bleeding depend on the location of the bleed. They include:

    • Dark stools
    • Finding blood in your stools
    • Feeling tired and short of breath
    • Having chest pain
    • Losing consciousness from reduced blood flow to the brain
    • Vomiting blood
    • Vomit that looks like coffee grounds
  • Treatment of gastrointestinal bleeding includes:

    • Endoscopy – a procedure used to diagnose and treat GI bleeding by stopping the bleed by clipping the bleeding vessels. It involves using special instruments with a camera and laser attachment.
    • Treating the cause of bleeding if it can be identified:
      1. Haemorrhoids (piles) can be treated with medication or, in severe cases, with surgery
      2. Infections can be treated with appropriate antibiotics
      3. Proton pump inhibitor therapy can be used to reduce gastric acid production and promote healing of bleeding lesions (damage)
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