Upper Gastrointestinal Bleeding: Symptoms & Causes

Instructor: Justine Fritzel

Justine has been a Registered Nurse for 10 years and has a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing degree.

Upper gastrointestinal bleeding can be a scary sight and can be life-threatening. In this lesson, we will learn about symptoms and causes of upper gastrointestinal bleeding.

He's Throwing Up Blood!

Michael had not been feeling good for several days. He had an upset stomach, some abdominal pain, and no appetite. He was feeling weak and dizzy when he would stand up. His wife wanted him to see a doctor but he refused, insisting he was probably just stressed out from work.

His wife was concerned about him. Michael did have a very stressful job and was a high-stress person in general. He didn't take care of himself. He didn't work out, ate poorly, and drank heavily. He continued to feel worse and late one evening he started throwing up blood. She quickly rushed him to the emergency room! She was scared and didn't know what was happening.

Gastrointestinal System

Your gastrointestinal (GI) system starts with your mouth and ends at your anus. It is your digestive tract and is how your body uses food and drink to provide your body with the nutrients that it needs. It is an important part of your body.

Gastrointestinal System
GI system

Let's look closer at the symptoms Michael was having.

Symptoms of Upper Gastrointestinal Bleeding

Bleeding within your gastrointestinal system is not normal and is further classified as upper gastrointestinal bleeding and lower gastrointestinal bleeding. The symptoms of each can be different. We will focus on upper gastrointestinal bleeding which is bleeding that occurs in the upper portion of your gastrointestinal system.

Michael showed some classic symptoms of an upper GI bleed which included hematemesis or vomiting blood. This can be red blood or may also appear like coffee grounds. This is an emergent situation and can be life-threatening. Due to the blood loss, Michael had also felt dizzy which was due to decreased blood pressure. He had been experiencing weakness and abdominal pain.

Additional symptoms can include melena or black stools due to blood passing through the GI tract. Syncope or fainting can occur due to the blood loss. If you have a GI bleed you may also be experiencing an upset stomach, heartburn, and weight loss.

Causes of Upper GI Bleeds

A GI bleed is not a disease in itself but is a symptom caused by other conditions. Upper GI bleeds are often caused by peptic ulcers which can be an open sore in the stomach or upper intestine. Gastritis can also cause an upper GI bleed and is inflammation of the stomach. Both peptic ulcers and gastritis can be caused by a bacteria called H. Pylori or medications that can irritate the stomach lining and increase the chance of bleeding. Examples include aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen. Stress, alcohol use, and caffeine can also cause either of these.

Esophageal varices are enlarged blood vessels in the esophagus and can rupture and bleed. These become enlarged due to blocked blood flow in the liver usually due to liver disease.

Cancer can also result in gastrointestinal bleeds by tumor growth invading the gastrointestinal tract.

Michael was diagnosed with a peptic ulcer as the cause of his upper gastrointestinal bleed. Interventions in the emergency room stopped the bleeding. He was prescribed medications and educated on lifestyle changes to help prevent future bleeds.

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