While bloody stools are often a sign of damage to or a disorder within the lining of the digestive track, they are not always serious. Eating certain foods, such as beets or red licorice, can cause stools to appear red and bloody. If a child presents with bloody stools and foods are not a likely cause or if the condition doesn't resolve quickly, a healthcare physician should be consulted. A bloody stool in children may be caused by ulcerative colitis, anal fissures, intestinal infections, irritable bowel syndrome or intestinal tract bleeding.
Ulcerative colitis, a common cause of a bloody stool in children, can affect people of all ages, from young children to the elderly, and typically requires medical treatment. A child with ulcerative colitis is suffering from ulcers in the digestive tract, apparent by the presence of bloody mucus in the bowel movements. Other symptoms of ulcerative colitis include weight loss and fever. Parents should contact a healthcare professional or a pediatrician if they suspect their child might have ulcerative colitis.
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An anal fissure is the leading cause of a bloody stool in children, according to Seattle Children's Hospital. The hospital's research indicates that more than 90 percent of kids who have blood in their stools without experiencing diarrhea are diagnosed with an anal fissure. An anal fissure causes bleeding when the child has a bowel movement, especially if the stool is hard or large. Typically, an anal fissure produces bright red blood. If parents notice a significant amount of blood or the child is vomiting, has diarrhea, is bleeding more than two times per week, or if the child is not yet 12 weeks old and is passing blood, a doctor should be contacted immediately.
Intestinal infections can be the cause of a bloody stool in children as well, regardless of whether the infection is bacterial or viral. The fecal blood is typically the result of frequent and severe diarrhea. While E. coli, Shigella and Salmonella are common infections in the intestine that can lead to diarrhea and cause a bloody stool, food poisoning can also lead to these symptoms, so a visit to a physician may be warranted.
Children who have been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS, may have severe constipation and then complain of diarrhea. IBS is characterized by irregular bowel movements and can cause discomfort and extreme pain. A child who is suffering from IBS may notice blood in the stool caused by either straining too hard to have a bowel movement or from chronic diarrhea.
If a child has intestinal tract bleeding, the stool may be dark or black in color. Often, children who are taking certain medications or iron supplements may notice dark stools without bleeding. Bleeding from the intestinal tract, which includes the rectum and large intestine, can also produce a stool bright red in color, however, and diarrhea may present as well.