Gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding is a symptom of a disorder in your digestive tract. The blood often appears in stool or vomit but isn't always visible. The level of bleeding can range from mild to severe and life-threatening. Finding the cause of GI bleeding can be difficult. But sophisticated imaging technology can usually locate the problem, and minimally invasive procedures often can fix it.

  • Diagnostic expertise. State-of-the-art imaging, some of it developed at Mayo Clinic, helps Mayo doctors find the cause of your GI bleeding.
  • Advanced treatments. Mayo Clinic doctors have experience using the latest techniques to repair your GI bleeding. Treatment is tailored to your specific needs.
  • New ideas. Mayo Clinic researchers are investigating new ways to diagnose and treat GI bleeding. You have access to the expertise of Mayo's clinician-researchers.

About

GI bleeding can result from a number of digestive disorders, including:

GI bleeding can be visible in the form of vomiting of blood, bright red bloody stools or black tarry stools (melena). Even a small amount of GI bleeding that isn't visible can result over time in a shortage of red blood cells in your blood (anemia).

Pinpointing the source of GI bleeding can be especially difficult if it starts in the small intestine. When the source can't be identified, the term obscure GI bleeding is used.

Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., ranks No. 1 for digestive disorders in the U.S. News & World Report Best Hospitals rankings. Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., are ranked high performing for digestive disorders by U.S. News & World Report.

At Mayo Clinic, we assemble a team of specialists who take the time to listen and thoroughly understand your health issues and concerns. We tailor the care you receive to your personal health care needs. You can trust our specialists to collaborate and offer you the best possible outcomes, safety and service.

Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit medical institution that reinvests all earnings into improving medical practice, research and education. We're constantly involved in innovation and medical research, finding solutions to improve your care and quality of life. Your doctor or someone on your medical team is likely involved in research related to your condition.

Our patients tell us that the quality of their interactions, our attention to detail and the efficiency of their visits mean health care — and trusted answers — like they've never experienced.

Why Choose Mayo Clinic

What Sets Mayo Clinic Apart

Mayo Clinic doctors start by asking you about your symptoms and by doing a thorough physical examination and blood tests. This initial exam may be enough to indicate a cause of GI bleeding.

But if the source isn't obvious, Mayo Clinic doctors can use sensitive imaging technologies to find it. Results from one procedure determine the next procedure to use until the cause is determined.

Mayo doctors use these tests:

  • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD). A scope is used to inspect your esophagus, stomach and upper part of the small intestine (duodenum). The doctor may remove a small tissue sample (biopsy) for further study.
  • Colonoscopy.
  • Capsule endoscopy. You swallow a small pill containing a video camera, which transmits images of your small intestine to a recording device.
  • Balloon-assisted enteroscopy. A specialized scope inspects parts of your small intestine that EGD and colonoscopy can't reach.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound. An ultrasound probe attached to an endoscope allows doctors to see all the layers of tissue in the digestive tract.
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). A scope combined with an X-ray procedure allows doctors to see the ducts of the gallbladder, liver and pancreas.
  • Multiphase CT enterography (MCTE). Mayo researchers helped develop these noninvasive radiologic tests, which are more sensitive than conventional X-rays for finding the source of GI bleeding. MCTE can image the entire thickness of the bowel wall, all of the long loops in the small intestine and surrounding tissue.
  • Angiography. A contrast dye is injected into an artery, and a series of X-rays are taken to look for a bleeding vessel or other abnormalities.

If your GI bleeding is severe, and noninvasive tests can't find the source, you may need surgery so that doctors can view the entire small intestine.

Mayo Clinic specialists have a variety of treatment options, depending on the source of your GI bleeding:

  • Endoscopic thermal probe can stop bleeding from ulcers and other abnormalities by burning (coagulating) the blood vessel or abnormal tissue.
  • Argon plasma coagulation and radiofrequency ablation are other types of thermal techniques used to treat abnormal blood vessels in the stomach, small intestine and colon.
  • Endoscopic clips can be used to close a bleeding vessel or other defective tissue.
  • Endoscopic band ligation uses special bands to treat bleeding hemorrhoids and bleeding blood vessels (varices) in the esophagus.
  • Endoscopic cryotherapy freezes abnormal blood vessels in the stomach.
  • Endoscopic intravariceal cyanoacrylate injection uses a special glue to treat difficult bleeding from varices in the stomach.
  • Angiographic embolization injects particles directly into a blood vessel to stop bleeding.

If bleeding recurs after treatment, you may need surgery.

Mayo Clinic works with hundreds of insurance companies and is an in-network provider for millions of people. In most cases, Mayo Clinic doesn't require a physician referral. Some insurers require referrals or may have additional requirements for certain medical care. All appointments are prioritized on the basis of medical need.

Specialists in gastroenterology usually manage care for adults who have GI bleeding.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 800-446-2279 (toll-free) 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

Specialists in gastroenterology usually manage care for adults who have GI bleeding.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 904-953-0853 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

Specialists in gastroenterology usually manage care for children and adults who have GI bleeding.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 507-538-3270 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

See information on patient services at the three Mayo Clinic locations, including transportation options and lodging.

Mayo Clinic researchers are working on improved imaging technology to find the source of GI bleeding. Mayo radiologists were instrumental in developing novel imaging techniques for bowel disorders that can help pinpoint the location of GI bleeding. Mayo doctors are also researching new techniques for treating GI bleeding.

Publications

See a list of publications by Mayo authors on GI bleeding on PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine.

Nov. 19, 2012