Bloody or Tarry Stools

Also known as: black or tarry stools, bloody stools, melena, hematochezia

What are bloody or tarry stools?

If your bowel movements appear bloody, black or tarry and are foul-smelling, it might be the sign of internal bleeding or another more serious medical condition. On the other hand, certain foods or medications can also lead to stools that appear bloody or tarry.

What might cause bloody or tarry stools?

Bloody and tarry stools can have another of potential causes, including the following:
  • Eating beets, foods with red coloring, blueberries, blood sausage or black licorice
  • Taking pills that contain iron, activated charcoal or bismuth (this includes Pepto-Bismol)
  • Bleeding in the esophagus, stomach or upper part of the small intestine (leads to black or tarry stools).
  • Bleeding in the rectum or anus (leads to bloody stools).
  • Abnormal blood vessels
  • Stomach lining inflammation (gastritis)
  • Complications of liver cirrhosis
  • Certain cancers
  • Swallowed maternal blood
  • Polyps
  • Clotting disorder
  • Infection
  • Autoimmune disorder
  • Intolerance to milk protein
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Anal fissure

How can it be treated?

If you suspect that a particular food is causing your stools to appear bloody, black or tarry and no other symptoms are present, then removing the offending food may relieve the symptoms. Still, it’s a good idea to discuss the symptoms with your doctor to rule out anything more serious. In addition, your doctor can recommend a potential change in medication if medication is the possible cause of your symptoms.

When should you seek medical attention?

Contact your doctor if you notice blood or any other unusual changes in the color of your stool or any fever associated with the blood in the stool. Seek immediate medical attention if you also vomit blood, feel dizzy or lightheaded.

Reviewed by: Shifra Koyfman, MD

This page was last updated on: August 26, 2020 03:18 PM

Pediatric Gastroenterology

The Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital is dedicated to the treatment of a wide variety of gastrointestinal problems in infants, children and adolescents with a multidisciplinary approach.

Learn More