What causes melena and how to treat it?

Symptom Database

Have you ever noticed dark, tarry stools and wondered what could be causing them? This condition, known as melena, occurs when there is blood in the stool. Melena can be a symptom of various underlying health issues and should not be ignored. In this article, we will explore the causes of melena, its symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for both humans and animals.

Causes of Melena

Melena is typically caused by bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract. The dark color of the stool is a result of the digestion of blood as it passes through the digestive system. Some common causes of melena include:

  • Gastric or duodenal ulcers: These open sores in the stomach or the first part of the small intestine can lead to bleeding.
  • Esophageal varices: These are enlarged veins in the lower part of the esophagus, often associated with liver disease.
  • Gastritis: Inflammation of the stomach lining can cause bleeding.
  • Colorectal cancer: Tumors in the colon or rectum can result in melena.
  • Peptic ulcer disease: This condition involves the development of ulcers in the stomach or small intestine.

Symptoms of Melena

In addition to dark, tarry stools, melena can present with other symptoms. It is important to be aware of these signs, as they can help in the early detection and treatment of underlying conditions. Some common symptoms of melena include:

  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexplained weight loss

Diagnosing Melena

If you experience melena or any associated symptoms, it is crucial to seek medical attention promptly. A healthcare professional will perform a thorough evaluation to determine the cause of the melena. The diagnostic process may involve:

  • Medical history: The doctor will inquire about your symptoms, medical history, and any medications you are taking.
  • Physical examination: A physical examination will be conducted to assess your overall health and look for any signs of bleeding.
  • Stool analysis: A sample of your stool may be collected and analyzed for the presence of blood.
  • Endoscopy: This procedure involves the use of a flexible tube with a camera to examine the upper gastrointestinal tract for any abnormalities or sources of bleeding.
  • Imaging tests: X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs may be ordered to obtain detailed images of the digestive system.

Treatment Options for Melena

The treatment of melena depends on the underlying cause. It is essential to address the root issue to prevent further complications. Some treatment options for melena include:

  • Medications: Depending on the cause, medications such as proton pump inhibitors, antibiotics, or antacids may be prescribed to reduce stomach acid, treat infections, or promote healing of ulcers.
  • Endoscopic therapy: In some cases, endoscopy can be used to stop bleeding by cauterizing or injecting medications into the affected area.
  • Surgery: If the bleeding is severe or cannot be controlled by other methods, surgery may be necessary to repair or remove the source of bleeding.
  • Transfusion: In cases of significant blood loss, a blood transfusion may be required to restore blood volume and prevent complications.

Melena in Dogs, Cats, and Horses

Melena can also occur in animals, including dogs, cats, and horses. The causes and treatment options for melena in animals are similar to those in humans. However, it is crucial to consult a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment. Some common causes of melena in animals include:

  • Gastrointestinal ulcers
  • Gastrointestinal tumors
  • Ingestion of foreign objects
  • Parasitic infections

If you notice melena in your pet, it is essential to seek veterinary care promptly. Delayed treatment can lead to further complications and jeopardize your pet’s health.

In conclusion, melena is a condition characterized by dark, tarry stools due to bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract. It can be caused by various underlying health issues, including ulcers, varices, gastritis, and colorectal cancer. Prompt medical attention is crucial to diagnose and treat the underlying cause of melena. Treatment options may include medications, endoscopic therapy, surgery, or transfusion. Melena can also occur in animals, and pet owners should consult a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment. Remember, early detection and treatment can significantly improve outcomes and prevent complications.

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