Gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding generally refers to bleeding from the esophagus, stomach, small intestines or colon. Occasionally, GI bleeding is difficult to find and most often the source is somewhere in the small intestine.
Given the length of the small intestine (22 feet) and the fact that bleeding can be slow and sometimes not immediately noticeable, trying to pinpoint the cause of some sources of blood loss – called GI bleeding of obscure origin – can be challenging.
At the GI Bleeding Center at Cooper (part of the Digestive Health Institute), our world-renowned experts have been at the forefront of GI bleeding care and provide patients with a full array of diagnostic and treatment services. In addition to traditional colonoscopy and endoscopy procedures, our experts are among the leaders in their field in all therapeutic endoscopy approaches to access the small intestine.
Our experts use single- and double-balloon enteroscopies to examine the small intestine to find the source of a GI bleed. In fact, the Cooper GI Bleeding Center is the only center in South Jersey that uses double balloon technology.
Causes of GI Bleeding
GI bleeding can develop in anyone, although there are certain factors that may increase the risk of GI bleeding, including:
- Abnormal blood vessels in the walls of the small intestine (AVMs)
- Certain medications, like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Tumors (either benign or cancerous)
- Crohn’s disease
- Chronic vomiting
Symptoms of GI Bleeding
The symptoms of GI bleeding may be subtle at first and become more noticeable over time. The symptoms may include:
- Blood in the bowel movements
- Black, tarry stools
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Abdominal pain
- Pale skin
GI Bleeding Diagnosis
The primary way of diagnosing bleeding in the small bowel is through a non-invasive procedure called a capsule endoscopy, which allows a gastroenterologist to evaluate the entire small intestine. During the procedure the patient swallows a capsule the size of a large pill or vitamin. The capsule contains a small camera that takes and transmits up to 80,000 images for evaluation.
Depending on a patient’s particular symptoms or circumstances, tests like computed tomography scans or X-rays may be used to help diagnose the source of GI bleeding.
Treatment for GI Bleeding
The results of a capsule endoscopy and any other diagnostic tests will be used to determine the appropriate, most advanced approach to treat GI bleeding. The primary endoscopic approach involves the use of either single balloon enteroscopy or double balloon enteroscopy, depending on the site of small intestinal bleeding.
During the procedure the gastroenterologist uses a thin, flexible tube called an endoscope that is inside a larger tube that is inserted into the small intestine. Each tube has an inflatable balloon or balloons that grabs the walls of the small intestine section by section.
Depending on the specific location of the small bowel bleed, balloon enteroscopy is performed by guiding the device into the mouth, throat, and down into the small intestine or by guiding the device into the colon, similar to a colonoscopy.
Why Choose Cooper to Diagnose and Treat Your GI Bleeding
The combination of unparalleled expertise, state-of-the-art technologies and innovative treatment approaches means our specialists can help get to the bottom of the source of GI bleeding and work with patients to develop an appropriate treatment plan. Our multidisciplinary team includes gastroenterologists, pathologists, hematologists, surgeons, radiologists, interventional radiologists and other health care professionals working together collaboratively to provide you or your loved one with the most advanced care possible.