What Does Your Body Do With Swallowed Blood?

The sight of blood can leave us uneasy, especially if it’s our own. Whether from a nosebleed, a cut in your mouth, or other internal bleeding, the idea of swallowing blood might induce worry and concern about potential health issues. Can it truly make you sick? Let’s examine this question.

Swallowing Small Amounts of Blood

In most everyday scenarios where you might swallow a small amount of blood, such as from a minor nosebleed or a cut in the mouth, it’s typically harmless. Our digestive system is remarkably robust and capable of breaking down a bit of blood without any issues.

However, this comes with a note of caution – ingesting too much blood can become problematic.

Potential Problems with Swallowing Large Amounts of Blood

Let’s examine why:

  • Nausea and Vomiting: Our stomachs are not designed to handle large volumes of blood. If you swallow a significant amount, it can irritate the stomach lining, leading to nausea and the urge to vomit.
  • Diarrhea: Blood contains an abundance of iron. As this iron travels through your digestive tract, it might cause irritation and diarrhea as the body tries to expel the excess.
  • Bloodborne Pathogens: In cases where the swallowed blood originated from someone else, there’s a theoretical risk of contracting bloodborne infections like hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or HIV. This risk significantly increases if you already have open sores or cuts in your mouth or digestive tract.

When to Seek Medical Attention

It’s essential to see a healthcare provider if you swallow a significant amount of blood, especially if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Ongoing vomiting, especially if it includes blood
  • Black, tarry stools (this could indicate digested blood in the stool)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weakness, lightheadedness, fainting (signs of blood loss)

Sources of Swallowed Blood

Several situations can lead to blood entering your digestive tract:

  • Nosebleeds: Frequent, severe, or prolonged nosebleeds can cause noticeable amounts of blood to be swallowed.
  • Bleeding in the Mouth: Bleeding gums, loose teeth, oral injuries, or ulcers inside the mouth can lead to the swallowing of blood.
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) Bleeding: If there’s bleeding in the esophagus, stomach, or intestines (ulcers, tumors, inflammatory disorders), a large amount of blood may pass into the digestive system. Blood from GI bleeding often results in those distinct black, tarry stools.

What to Do If You Swallow Blood

Here’s how to respond to different scenarios:

  • Minor Blood Swallowing: For small amounts of blood from a nosebleed or a small cut in your mouth, rinsing your mouth with water is usually sufficient. You might temporarily experience an odd metallic taste.
  • Larger Amounts: If you suspect you’ve swallowed a more significant quantity, remain calm. Drink some water to help reduce irritation to your stomach. Monitor your symptoms closely and call your doctor if necessary.

FAQs

1. Can vomiting up blood indicate something serious?

Yes. Vomiting up blood (known medically as hematemesis) can signify a severe underlying medical condition, such as a bleeding ulcer or problems with blood vessels. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience this.

2. Is it safe to consume animal blood?

Although sometimes included in culinary practices, drinking animal blood can put you at risk for foodborne illnesses and infections. Proper cooking of meat eliminates most of this risk, but consuming raw or partially cooked blood could harbor bacteria and viruses.

3. Should I brush my teeth if my gums are bleeding?

Yes, continue to brush your teeth gently, even with bleeding gums. Avoid overly rigorous brushing, which can increase bleeding. See your dentist for guidance on controlling any underlying gum disease.

In Conclusion

The occasional accidental swallowing of small amounts of blood won’t typically make you ill. However, if you notice a considerable amount of swallowed blood or have signs of related ailments, consult a medical professional to identify any underlying cause and assess for possible complications.

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