Investigative modalities for massive lower gastrointestinal bleeding

World J Surg. 2002 May;26(5):620-5. doi: 10.1007/s00268-001-0279-x. Epub 2002 Mar 1.


The objective of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of various diagnostic modalities in the assessment of patients with massive lower gastrointestinal bleeding. The charts of all patients admitted to a McGill University affiliated teaching hospital with the diagnosis of lower gastrointestinal bleeding over a 25-year period were reviewed. There were 136 patients who underwent 202 admissions. The information documented included demographics on age, gender, co-morbid disease, prescribed medications, requirements for blood transfusions, orthostatic change in blood pressure, acute drop in hematocrit (to <30%), and exclusion of upper gastrointestinal bleeding. Among the 202 admitted patients there were 116 men and 86 women), with an average age of 70 years (range 16-95 years). At least one significant medical disease was found in 93% of these patients; and 20% were on aspirin and 5% on anticoagulants at the time of diagnosis. Rigid or flexible sigmoidoscopy was performed in 68 and 18 patients, respectively, with a definitive diagnosis made in 2.9% and 11.0%, respectively. Colonoscopy was performed in 152 cases, 20 of which were incomplete; a specific diagnosis was made for 59 admissions (45%). A red blood cell or colloid scan was performed on 53 patients, with extravasation noted in 13 (24.5%); a localized site of bleeding was identified in 9 cases (17%). Angiography was performed on 31 patients with bleeding sites localized in 6 (19%). Barium enemas were completed in 85 of 92 patients, and the presumptive cause of bleeding was identified in 72% of those with a complete examination. The most common causes identified were diverticulosis in 52 patients and angiodysplasia in 14. The cause of bleeding was not detected in 48 (35%). Bleeding stopped in most patients spontaneously, with only 7 requiring operation. The average number of units transfused was 3 (range 0-26). Scintigraphy and angiography were less efficacious than colonoscopy for localizing the site and etiology of the bleeding. Despite the combination of investigative modalities, a definitive diagnosis was not made in 35% of the admitted patients. The need for operative intervention in our study was lower than in most previous reports.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Angiography
  • Colonoscopy
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / complications
  • Gastrointestinal Hemorrhage / diagnosis*
  • Gastrointestinal Hemorrhage / etiology
  • Gastrointestinal Hemorrhage / therapy
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sigmoidoscopy