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What are the Most Common Causes of Small Intestine Bleeding?

By Debi Fields
Updated May 17, 2024
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Depending on a person's age and medical history, there can be a variety of causes for small intestine bleeding. This condition often is referred to as gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding. The most common causes of small intestine bleeding are ulcers, Crohn's disease, tumors or polyps and arteriovenous malformations.

Only about 5 percent of all GI bleeding occurs in the small intestine. When it does happen, it usually is the result of some abnormality within the lining of the small bowel. Blood loss can be either rapid, as the result of a hemorrhage, or slow, as would be the result of a tiny blood vessel that might have burst. Often, the first symptom aside from blood in the stool is anemia.

Ulcers normally form in the upper gastrointestinal tract. When these ulcerative lesions form in the small intestine, they usually are a side effect from using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen. Many over-the-counter, fever-reducing pain relievers and anti-inflammatory compounds fall into this category, as do several prescription arthritis medications.

Crohn’s disease might also result in small intestine bleeding. Crohn’s disease is an auto-immune disease for which there is no cure, only treatment for the symptoms and related conditions that often accompany this debilitating illness. It is thought to be genetic, and it usually presents while the sufferer is in his or her late teens or early 20s. Symptoms include but are not limited to diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain and weight loss. Although Crohn’s can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth to the anus, it is the most distal portion of the small bowel, the terminal ileum, that accounts for at least 50 percent of all diagnosed cases of Crohn’s.

Tumors or polyps, whether benign or malignant, also can cause small intestine bleeding. Although rarely found in the small intestine, tumors can become ulcerative and bleed. They can be single or multiple, but in most cases, these are found only during testing for other digestive problems. They might be dormant for years before discovery, with only occasional instances of stomach pain, bleeding, nausea, constipation or loose stools.

Most frequently, the cause of GI bleeding is caused by angioectasias, or arteriovenous malformations (AVMs). Fully 30 percent to 40 percent of instances of small intestine bleeding occur when these abnormal blood vessels, which are located inside the lining of the small intestine, rupture. AVMs become more likely and are very common as people grow older, and they are the single most common cause of bleeding in the small intestine in people older than 50. AVMs also frequently accompany conditions such as heart disease and kidney disease.

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Discussion Comments
By anon999048 — On Oct 17, 2017

I am 40 years old with a rare heart disorder. I just found out that is is my fate. I feel that at 40 and being as weak as I am, this treatment is crap for people to just survive the days. I feel for those of you taking care of others with this. AVM is painful. I'm tired all the time. I cannot have a normal life.

By anon992995 — On Oct 16, 2015

My father is 87 years young, is on dialysis three times a week, has a pace maker, has had mitral value heart surgery, one kidney and his bladder have been removed due to cancer, and he is tired and weak all the time. He now is bleeding (the doctor thinks from the small bowel). He was given three units of blood, but when they checked his inr, his blood count was reduced. He is also getting an iron transfusion. This has been happening for a week now. I do not know how much more he can endure, or if surgery is even an option.

By anon924612 — On Jan 06, 2014

My husband is 77 and on dialysis. However, he is in need of blood transfusions two times a week, due to broken blood vessels in his upper intestine. (so we are told) He rarely gets his blood level up to 9. Is there a cure for this?

By anon302713 — On Nov 11, 2012

I would recommend intravenous iron transfusions (one a week for three weeks). The medication of choice is Ferinject (Nycomed). There are no side effects and immediate results in improving RBC count and regaining energy. Also, it would help to identify the location of the AVMs through the Cam-Pill (endocapsular endoscopy) so as to cauterize them or otherwise treat them.

By anon300120 — On Oct 28, 2012

My mother is 69 years old and was diagnosed with AVM. She receives blood transfusions every two weeks now. However, when it first started she was only receiving them every six months. They say there is no cure.

She's always tired and don't have much energy. My mom loves to cook and garden but that has lessened. I would like to know if this condition of AVM intestine will be the cause of her death? She seems to be losing ground. Even with the transfusions, her level never exceeds 9 when 12 is normal. Iron pills do not help. Any answers would be appreciated.

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