Skip to Main Content



  • Diverticulosis, arteriovenous malformations (AVMs), ischemic colitis, and hemorrhoids are the most common causes of lower gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding (LGIB).

  • Clinical presentation ranges from occult to overt bleeding.

  • Endoscopic and radiologic tests can provide both diagnosis and therapy.

  • Urgent colonoscopy may have increased diagnostic yield but does not clearly lead to decreased rates of rebleeding.

General Considerations

LGIB is defined as bleeding that occurs from a source in the colon, rectum, or anus. It accounts for about 20% of major GI bleeding and is less common and generally less severe than upper GI bleeding. There are approximately 36 hospitalizations per 100,000 adults in the United States due to lower GI bleeding. It generally occurs in older adults with a mean age between 63 and 77. Nearly 80% of lower GI bleeding stops spontaneously, similar to upper GI bleeding. The overall mortality rate of lower GI bleeding is 1.5%. Similar to upper GI bleeding, patients who begin lower GI bleeding as outpatients have a significantly lower mortality rate (3.6%) than those who develop lower GI bleeding as inpatients (23%).

Barnert  J, Messmann  H. Diagnosis and management of lower gastrointestinal bleeding. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2009;6:637–646.
[PubMed: 19881516]  
Laine  L, Yang  H, Chang  SC, Datto  C. Trends for incidence of hospitalization and death due to GI complications in the United States from 2001 to 2009. Am J Gastroenterol. 2012;107:1190–1195.
[PubMed: 9068461]  


Definition of Bleeding

Hematochezia is defined as bright red blood per rectum and usually implies a left colonic source, although it can be caused by a more brisk, proximal source of bleeding. Maroon stools are maroon-colored blood mixed with stool and are often associated with a right colonic source of bleeding; however, they also can result from a more brisk, proximal source of bleeding. Melena refers to black, tarry, foul-smelling stool that results from the bacterial degradation of hemoglobin over a period of at least 14 hours. It usually implies an upper GI source of bleeding although it may be associated with right colonic bleeding in cases of slow motility. Ingestion of iron, bismuth, charcoal, and licorice should be excluded since they all can turn stool black. Occult blood refers to the presence of small quantities of blood in the stool that does not change its color and can only be detected by performing a stool guaiac card test. Blood loss of at least 5–10 mL/day can be detected by stool guaiac card tests. The GI tract normally loses about 0.5–1.5 mL of blood per day, which is not usually detected by guaiac tests.

Diagnostic Approach

When patients initially present with lower GI bleeding, they should be triaged and managed based on the ...

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.