What Causes Red or Maroon Stools?

Hematochezia: Potential Causes of Blood in Your Poop

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Having a red stool can be startling, and immediately there's a fear that it might be blood, but there are a few reasons that a stool can be red that aren't due to blood. If there is a chance the red seen in a poop could be blood, a physician should be consulted immediately.

However, if the reason for the red stool is not clear, try to remember the recent foods eaten, especially any that are red or orange.

The medical term for visible blood in the stool is hematochezia. The brighter color of the blood indicates that it may be coming from a source in the lower gastrointestinal tract (such as the colon, or large intestine), rather than in the higher gastrointestinal tract (such as the esophagus, stomach, or small intestine).

A physician should always investigate blood in the stool to rule out potentially serious conditions.

Causes of Red or Maroon Stools
Verywell / JR Bee

Red Stool Causes That Are Not Blood

Several different types of food with natural or artificial coloring may cause red in the stool, which looks like blood, but it isn't. Check food labels because a food might not appear red but may still have red food coloring in it.

Some of the foods that can cause red stools include:

  • Red gelatin, popsicles, Gatorade, or Kool-Aid
  • Tomato juice or soup
  • Large amounts beets
  • Anything colored with red food coloring (red #40)

If there's been no red foods or other brightly colored foods eaten recently and yet there are red stools, contact a doctor right away to get it checked out. This is especially true when there has been more than one red stool and yet nothing red in the diet.

Diagnostic Tests for Blood in Stool

Red blood in the stool could be caused by several different conditions including hemorrhoids, anal fissures, colon polyps, diverticular bleeding, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

The location of the bleeding must be determined before a diagnosis can be made and a treatment prescribed. To start to find out the cause of the bleeding, a patient history will be taken, which includes questions about changes in bowel habits (such as constipation or diarrhea) and the location of any pain.

A physician may order a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) to check for blood in the stool. An FOBT is a simple test for a patient—it only requires that a stool sample is collected at home and dropped off at the physician’s office or a laboratory.

Other diagnostic tests may be needed to determine the cause and exact location of the bleeding. This could include X-rays, blood tests, colonoscopy, gastroscopy, stool culture, and barium studies.

A doctor may also do a quick rectal exam, which is where a gloved, lubricated finger is inserted into the anus (it's over fast and shouldn't hurt).

Causes of Hematochezia

These are some of the possible causes of blood in the stool.


Hemorrhoids are a common cause of bright red blood in the stool or on the toilet paper. A hemorrhoid is actually a form of varicose vein. The veins in and around the rectum and anus become swollen.

Symptoms of hemorrhoids include anal itching, bleeding during bowel movements, pain, protrusion during bowel movements, and sensitive lumps around the anus.

To diagnose hemorrhoids, a physician will need to examine the anus and rectum and possibly perform a rectal exam. This is may be embarrassing for a minute but doctors are used to giving these types of exams.

Anal Fissures

A fissure is a tear or ulcer in the lining of the anal canal. The anal canal is the last part of the rectum before the anus. Fissures can occur in anyone but are more common in middle age or young adults. A fissure can be difficult to heal as it causes a spasm of the anal sphincter and aggravates itself.

Symptoms of a fissure include an anal lump, bright red blood in the toilet bowl or on the toilet paper, painful bowel movements, and swollen skin tag. A fissure is typically diagnosed with a visual or a rectal exam.

Fissures can be caused by constipation or by forcing a hard bowel movement through the anus, during childbirth, or ulceration of hemorrhoids.

Diverticular Bleeding

A diverticulum is a small pouch in the colon that bulges out of a weakened spot in the colon wall. The condition of having diverticula in the colon is called diverticulosis and it affects about 10 percent percent of Americans over the age of 40 years.

Although not common, diverticula may cause bleeding that appears in the stool or the toilet. This bleeding may not require treatment unless it is continuous or severe.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease are incurable chronic diseases of the intestinal tract collectively known as IBD. Intervals of active disease (flares) and periods of remission characterize IBD.

IBD may cause bleeding in the digestive tract that appears in the stool or the toilet. Several diagnostic tests are normally completed and studied by a digestive specialist before a diagnosis of IBD is made.

Colon Polyps

A rarer cause of blood in the stool is a colon polyp. A polyp is a growth on the wall of the colon or rectum. Some colon cancers may develop from these polyps.

Discovering polyps early through a sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy and having them removed may help prevent colon cancer. By the time a colon polyp is causing visible bleeding, cancer is often already present.

A Word From Verywell

Blood in the stool is never normal, but neither is it always an emergency or a sign of cancer. The important thing is to see a doctor as soon as possible to be evaluated. If there is severe pain, a lot of bleeding, or vomiting along with the blood, get medical attention right away. A physician can help put the bleeding into perspective and determine if any other tests are needed.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ghassemi KA, Jensen DM. Lower GI bleeding: epidemiology and management. Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2013;15(7):333. doi:10.1007/s11894-013-0333-5

  2. DiGregorio A, Alvey H. Gastrointestinal bleeding. StatPearls Publishing. 2019.

  3. Morrison TC, Wells M, Fidler JL, Soto JA. Imaging Workup of Acute and Occult Lower Gastrointestinal Bleeding. Radiol Clin North Am. 2018;56(5):791-804. doi:10.1016/j.rcl.2018.04.009

  4. Diverticular Disease: Understanding Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis. Cooper University Health Care.

  5. Simon K. Colorectal cancer development and advances in screening. Clin Interv Aging. 2016;11:967-76. doi:10.2147/CIA.S109285

Additional Reading
  • American Gastroenterological Association. "Inflammatory Bowel Disease." Gastro.org Jul 2016.

  • Mayo Clinic Staff. "Hemorrhoids: Symptoms and Causes." Mayo Clinic. 2017.

  • Wilkins T, Baird C, Pearson AN, Schade RR. "Diverticular Bleeding." Am Fam Physician. 2009 Nov 1;80(9):977-983.