Most patients are already aware that blood in the stool is indicative of some type of health problem. Typically, these diagnoses are not life-threatening and are connected to various GI problems, hemorrhoids, or other infection. However, researchers have recently found a correlation between invisible (unseen) blood in the stool and morbidity with various diseases. Read on to learn about what invisible blood is, how you can get tested for it, and how to take care of your colon health.
Typical Blood in the Stool
As you get closer to the age of 50, and especially past age 45, you should be aware of your colon and digestive health. Recently, doctors have urged patients to have their first colonoscopy at the age of 45 rather than 50, to help catch colorectal cancer and other problems early. It’s likely that your gastroenterologist will perform various tests to maintain your GI health. If (visible) blood in the stool is found, it could be for several reasons:
- Benign polyps or tumor in the colon
- Anal fissures
- Celiac disease
Blood in the stool can also be indicative of colorectal cancer or may be related to issues such as age, smoking, or alcohol intake. However, this “visible” blood is most often associated with a medical diagnosis that can be treatable with medicine or lifestyle changes, especially when caught early. It is important to never ignore blood where it doesn’t belong.
Doctors must perform a particular test to look for unseen, or invisible blood in the stool. This refers to microscopic drops of blood not seen with regular tests or with the human eye. The test itself is called a fecal occult blood test, also known as FOBT. This test is not usually given simply to detect occult blood in relation to other disease, but rather as a screening for colorectal cancer. If you’re getting close to your first colonoscopy, your doctor may have already mentioned it to you. A positive FOBT is associated with several types of colorectal cancers, or it could indicate anemia.
The FOBT has been long used for cancer screening, and scientists began to track FOBT results and patient outcomes over the course of 16 years. The results were surprising: those who had a positive FOBT result had a 58 percent higher chance of dying from all types of cancer–not just colorectal or bowel cancer. Positive FOBT patients had higher morbidity with many types of diseases, such as hormone problems, neuropsychological issuers, circulatory problems, and respiratory issues. Those with a positive fecal occult blood test also were eight times as likely to die of bowel cancer. More research needs to be done to determine the correlation between invisible blood in the stool and these non-gi related diseases, but it is always important to remember that gut health is tied to various other systems in the body and can be an effective monitor of overall health.
The best thing you can do as a patient is to take care of your colon. This means limiting your intake of red and processed meats, choosing whole grains, opting for a high-fiber diet, and limiting sugar intake. Smoking and overconsumption of alcohol have also been connected to colon cancer risks. Patients should also participate in a moderate amount of exercise each week and should try to stay as active as possible. It is also essential to have all of your screenings on time with your GI doctor, and to follow your doctor’s advice, especially when it comes to healthy eating and your diet. If you have concerns about visible or invisible blood in the stool, or you are overdue for your screening colonoscopy, your GI Associates physician is the best place to start. For more information about healthier eating habits, or to request a screening or ask questions, make an appointment with GI Associates today. With three separate locations, we also offer pediatric services, providing GI and digestive health care for the entire family.