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How can you tell if there is blood in your stool?

If you can see bright red blood in your stool, it is most likely to be caused by haemorrhoids (piles). These are swollen veins in the anus which can bleed after a bowel motion. But red blood can also be a sign of a rectal cancer, so it should always be checked by a doctor. Bleeding from cancer higher up in the bowel does not look red in the stool. It makes the stool appear black and tarry. If there is a lot of bleeding the stool can be very soft and black. If you have any of these symptoms you should see your doctor.

Testing kits can show up occult blood in the stool. Occult means hidden blood that you can't see. You can buy these kits at the chemists, but it would be best to talk to your doctor. If necessary, they can arrange the test for you. In the UK, you have this type of test as part of the bowel cancer screening programme

If you buy your own test kit, do make sure you read the instructions so that you get a reliable result. And remember that the test is not 100% accurate at diagnosing cancer. This is because cancers may bleed on and off and so you could test when there is no blood there. You may also have bleeding for other medical reasons.

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Updated: 17 September 2013