What causes black or tarry stools and what should I do?

Symptom Database

Black or tarry stools can be a cause for concern, as they may indicate an underlying health issue. It is important to understand the causes of black or tarry stools and what steps you should take if you notice this symptom. In this article, we will explore the possible causes of black or tarry stools, as well as treatment options and remedies.

Causes of Black Stools

Black stools, also known as melena, can occur due to various reasons. Some common causes include:

  • Gastrointestinal bleeding: One of the most common causes of black stools is bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract. This can be caused by ulcers, gastritis, esophageal varices, or certain medications like aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
  • Peptic ulcers: These are open sores that develop on the lining of the stomach or the upper part of the small intestine. When these ulcers bleed, it can result in black stools.
  • Esophageal varices: These are enlarged veins in the lower part of the esophagus. When these veins rupture, it can lead to severe bleeding and black stools.
  • Colon cancer: In some cases, black stools may be a sign of colon cancer. It is important to consult a healthcare professional if you have any concerns.

Black Stool Treatment

If you notice black stools, it is crucial to seek medical attention to determine the underlying cause. The treatment will depend on the specific cause identified. Some common treatment options include:

  • Medication: If the cause of black stools is related to ulcers or gastritis, your doctor may prescribe medications to reduce stomach acid and promote healing.
  • Endoscopy: In cases where gastrointestinal bleeding is suspected, an endoscopy may be performed to identify the source of bleeding and take necessary measures to stop it.
  • Surgery: In more severe cases, surgery may be required to address the underlying issue causing black stools, such as removing a tumor or repairing damaged blood vessels.

Black Stool Remedies

In addition to medical treatment, there are some remedies that may help alleviate black stools or support the healing process. These include:

  • Increasing fluid intake: Staying hydrated can help soften stools and prevent constipation, which can contribute to black stools.
  • Eating a balanced diet: Consuming a diet rich in fiber can promote regular bowel movements and prevent digestive issues that may lead to black stools.
  • Avoiding trigger foods: If you have identified certain foods that worsen your symptoms, it is best to avoid them to prevent further irritation to the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Managing stress: Stress can exacerbate digestive issues, so finding healthy ways to manage stress, such as exercise or meditation, may be beneficial.

When to See a Doctor

While black stools can sometimes be harmless, it is important to consult a healthcare professional if you experience this symptom. Seek immediate medical attention if:

  • You are experiencing severe abdominal pain or vomiting blood.
  • Your black stools are accompanied by dizziness or fainting.
  • You have a family history of colon cancer.
  • You have recently started a new medication that may cause gastrointestinal bleeding.

Remember, early detection and treatment of the underlying cause can significantly improve outcomes.

In Conclusion

Black or tarry stools can be a sign of an underlying health issue, such as gastrointestinal bleeding or ulcers. It is important to seek medical attention if you notice this symptom to determine the cause and receive appropriate treatment. In addition to medical intervention, adopting healthy lifestyle habits and remedies can support the healing process. Remember to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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