Rectal bleeding: epidemiology, associated risk factors, and health care seeking behaviour: a population-based study

Colorectal Dis. 2009 Nov;11(9):921-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1463-1318.2008.01721.x. Epub 2008 Oct 21.


Purpose: Rectal bleeding is considered an important sign of colonic disease, particularly colorectal cancer. The epidemiology of rectal bleeding in the community is poorly understood. Moreover, there is little information as to whether individuals seek health care for this problem. This study aimed to determine the prevalence of rectal bleeding and levels of healthcare seeking amongst an Australian population.

Method: A community sample of adults aged above 18 years of Penrith (a Sydney suburb representative of the Australian population) selected randomly from the electoral roll. The survey consisted of a self-administered questionnaire sent out to 440 residents stratified for equal numbers of men and women.

Results: The response rate was 77% (n = 338; mean age 46 years; SD: 16; range: 18-90; 55% women). Blood in the stools in the previous 12 months was reported by 18% (95% CI: 14-23). Colour of the blood in bowel movements was reported as bright (72%), dark (7%), bright and dark (10%), 11% did not know. Only 31% (n = 21/68) of respondents with rectal bleeding had visited a physician primarily about the presence of blood in the bowel movement within the previous 12 months. The majority (90%) who consulted about the presence of blood were aged between 30 and 60 years. Blood in the stools was independently associated with younger age (OR = 0.97, 95% CI: 0.95-0.99, P = 0.01), feelings of incomplete rectal evacuation (OR = 3.42, 95% CI: 1.66-7.08, P = 0.001), self-reported injury or tear (OR = 3.45, 95% CI: 1.53-7.69, P = 0.002), and surgery (OR = 2.70, 95% CI: 1.03-7.14, P = 0.04) to the perianal region.

Conclusions: Rectal bleeding is common in the general population. Only one-third of those with rectal bleeding consults a physician about their condition. Rectal bleeding occurs in younger individuals, those who suffer from incomplete evacuation and among individuals who have had an injury, tear or surgery to the anus.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Hemorrhage / epidemiology*
  • Health Surveys*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Postal Service
  • Prevalence
  • Rectal Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Young Adult