Seeing blood in the poop can be very alarming. Parents often wonder if this is a sign that their child has cancer. Luckily, in children, blood in the poop can be a common condition and is usually not serious.
Blood in the poop is referred to as “rectal bleeding.” There are many causes of rectal bleeding. Based on your child’s age, your child’s symptoms, and a physical examination by your child’s physician, the cause of the rectal bleeding can be determined.
Color of the Poop
Bright red or maroon colored poop usually indicates a lower source of bleeding such as from the large intestine. Black or very dark colored poop indicates a higher source of bleeding such as from the esophagus, stomach, or small intestine.
Foods such as tomatoes, beets, red Kool-Aid, and red velvet cake can cause the stools to become red and give the false appearance of blood in the poop. Some medicines, such as the common childhood antibiotic Omnicef, can also cause the poop to turn red. Chocolate, iron supplements, and blueberries can often make the poop look very dark or black.
Causes of Rectal Bleeding
Anal Fissures: Anal fissures are the #1 cause of blood in the poop or rectal bleeding in children. The opening or hole where poop passes out of the bottom is called the anus. The skin around the anus is delicate and if a child passes a large or hard poop, it can cause the skin around the anus to tear and bleed. This is called an anal fissure. The child will then see red blood on top of the stool or on the toilet paper. Anal fissures heal quickly but can reoccur if the poop remains large or hard. Many children with anal fissures also have problems with constipation.
Infections: Consuming contaminated food, water, or not washing your hands can lead to infections with bacteria, viruses, and parasites. These infections can cause bloody diarrhea. Usually, the child will also complain about abdominal pain and may have a fever.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Chronic inflammatory conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis cause irritation to the lining of the digestive tract and result in bloody diarrhea, weight loss, and abdominal pain.
Polyps: Polyps are growths that can develop from the inner lining of the large intestine. Polyps in children are usually not cancerous but can bleed and cause blood in the poop with no abdominal pain or other obvious symptoms.
A number of other less common conditions can also cause blood in your child’s poop. If your child sees blood in their poop, then speak to your child’s physician about a further evaluation.
Rectal Bleeding Tests
Rectal Examination: Your child’s physician may visually inspect or use their finger to examine the anus.
Stool Testing: Stool testing may be ordered to look for blood and infections in the stool.
Blood Testing: A blood test may be ordered to evaluate the blood count and signs of inflammation.
Radiographic Examination: An abdominal x-ray may be ordered to evaluate for constipation.
Colonoscopy: A colonoscopy may be performed to examine the inner lining of the large intestine and directly visualize the source of bleeding.
Rectal Bleeding Treatment
The treatment for rectal bleeding is determined by the cause of the bleeding. If your child is having blood in their poop, then speak to your child’s physician about an evaluation and treatment. If the blood in the poop is not happening every day, it is still important to have your child evaluated.