What Causes Red or Maroon Stools?

Hematochezia: Potential Causes of Blood in Your Poop

Having a red stool (poop) can be startling. You may be worried that it could be blood. But there are a few reasons that stool can be red that aren't due to blood.

Some foods can actually cause red-colored stools. So, if the reason for the red stool is not clear, try to remember the recent foods you've eaten, especially any that are red or orange.

If there is a chance your red stool could be blood, you should contact your physician immediately to rule out potentially serious conditions.

The medical term for visible blood in the stool is hematochezia. The brighter the blood, the more likely it is to be coming from a source in the lower gastrointestinal tract, such as the colon (large intestine). A darker color may mean the blood is from higher in the gastrointestinal tract (such as the esophagus, stomach, or small intestine).

This article covers various reasons your stool may appear red and how doctors diagnose blood in the stool.

Causes of Red or Maroon Stools
Verywell / JR Bee

Red Stool From Food

Several different types of food with natural or artificial coloring may cause the stool to be red. This can often look like blood, but it isn't. Check food labels because the 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 of beets
  • Anything colored with red food coloring (red #40)

If you have not eaten red foods or other brightly colored foods recently and have 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 but nothing red in the diet.

Hemorrhoids

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. With hemorrhoids, the veins in and around the rectum and anus become swollen.

Symptoms of hemorrhoids include:

  • Anal itching
  • Bleeding during bowel movements
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Sensitive lumps around the anus

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

Anal Fissures

An anal 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-aged people and young adults.

A fissure can be difficult to heal. That's because it causes the anal sphincter to spasm and aggravate itself. Symptoms of a fissure include:

  • An anal lump
  • Bright red blood in the toilet bowl or on the toilet paper
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Swollen skin tag

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

A fissure is typically diagnosed with a visual or a rectal exam.

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. It affects about 10% percent of Americans over the age of 40.

Although not common, diverticula may cause bloody stools. 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 digestive tract. Together, they are known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

IBD has active periods (known as "flares") and times where there are no symptoms (known as remission).

IBD may cause bleeding in the digestive tract that appears in the stool or the toilet. To diagnose IBD, a digestive specialist will order and study several diagnostic tests. These tests might include blood work, imaging scans, and endoscopy procedures.

Colon Polyps

A less common cause of blood in the stool is a colon polyp. A polyp is a growth on the wall of the colon or rectum. Sometimes, colon cancers develop from these polyps.

Discovering polyps early and having them removed through sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy (tests in which a camera is used to look at the inside of the colon) may help prevent colon cancer. Unfortunately, by the time a colon polyp is causing visible bleeding, cancer is often already present.

Diagnosis

Before your doctor can make a diagnosis and offer treatment, they will need to determine the location of the bleeding.

Physical Exam

To find out the cause of the bleeding, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. This includes questions about changes in bowel habits. For example, your doctor will want to know if you've had constipation or diarrhea. They will also want to understand the location of any pain.

In addition, your doctor may perform a rectal exam. During this exam, your doctor will insert a gloved, lubricated finger into the anus. Rest assured that this exam is over fast and shouldn't hurt.

Fecal Occult Blood Test

Your doctor may order a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) to check for blood in the stool. An FOBT is a simple test. It only requires you to collect a stool sample at home. You then drop it off at the physician’s office or a laboratory.

Other Tests

You may need other diagnostic tests to determine the cause and exact location of the bleeding. These may include:

  • X-rays
  • Blood tests
  • Colonoscopy
  • Gastroscopy
  • Stool culture
  • Barium studies

Recap

To determine the cause of red stools, your doctor will ask you questions and do a physical exam, which may include a rectal exam.

In addition, your doctor may ask you to provide a stool sample. Other diagnostic tests might include X-rays, blood work, and endoscopy procedures.

Summary

Red-colored stools may be the result of the foods you eat or bleeding. When red stools are caused by blood, it is important to determine where the blood is coming from.

Sometimes blood in the stool may be from less serious things like hemorrhoids or anal fissures. However, it can also signify something more concerning, like colon polyps or cancer.

If you have red stools and have not eaten anything that can cause them, you should contact your doctor for a diagnosis. They will perform an exam and may order diagnostic tests to confirm where the blood is coming from.

A Word From Verywell

Blood in the stool is never normal. But it's not always an emergency or a sign of cancer, either. So don't panic: The important thing is to see a doctor as soon as possible to be evaluated.

If you have 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the medical term for blood in stool?

    Hematochezia is the medical term for visible blood in stool.

  • Why am I pooping blood?

    Pooping blood, otherwise known as rectal bleeding, can be a symptom of a relatively harmless condition like a hemorrhoid or a more serious cause like colorectal cancer. If you see blood in your stool and don't know the cause, see your doctor right away.

  • Can constipation cause blood in stool?

    Yes, straining too hard during a bowel movement can cause blood to appear in stool. This is because excessive straining can lead to anal fissures or hemorrhoids, which can bleed.

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6 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.
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