It’s reported that by the time people reach age 50, roughly half of the population will have experienced hemorrhoids at some point in their lifetime. Hemorrhoids will rarely turn into something more medically serious, but for the patient that experiences them, they can be more than a passing annoyance—they can be downright painful. Sometimes topical relief can help temporarily, but there are other times patients will have to seek out a gastroenterologist for help to rid themselves of the painful problem. Read on to learn more about hemorrhoids, how they are diagnosed, their different types, and what treatment options are available.
What Are Hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids, also known as piles, are swollen veins in the rectum and the lower part of the anus. If the walls of the vessels are stretched too much, they can become irritated, which can make them inflamed and painful as well as itchy in some cases. There are two different types of hemorrhoids, internal and external types. External types of hemorrhoids cause patients the most discomfort and the kind that requires the most treatment.
What Are the Symptoms of Hemorrhoids?
There are several symptoms of hemorrhoids that usually are a good sign you may be suffering from a case of them. The most notable symptom is pain around the anus, particularly when going to the bathroom. While hemorrhoids are painful, they are not a serious condition, and in some cases, may go away on their own. However, some hemorrhoids can worsen over time, so if your pain worsens quickly, it’s best to have them evaluated. Other telltale signs of hemorrhoids include:
- Blood on the tissue after having a bowel movement
- Itchy swelling near the anus
- The feeling of a lump or swelling near the anus
- A sensation of extreme itching around the anus
- Fecal leakage
- Painless bleeding (often with internal hemorrhoids)
It is important to note that if you notice blood in the stool or bowel movements that are black, you should immediately consult a GI doctor. Hemorrhoids are commonly associated with bleeding on the tissue after wiping, but blood in the stool is a different matter entirely and could be indicative of a different type of gastrointestinal problem. Similarly, black bowel movements should also be evaluated.
What Causes Hemorrhoids?
There are many different causes of hemorrhoids, and while they are most common in patients 45 years of age and older, they can occur in younger people as well. One of the most common causes of hemorrhoids, for instance, is pregnancy. As the uterus enlarges and presses down on the colon, it can cause the veins in the rectum to swell, which can cause hemorrhoids. Other causes of hemorrhoids include:
- Obesity. Hemorrhoids can be caused by carrying excess weight.
- Heavy lifting. If you lift an object that is too heavy or lift it improperly, hemorrhoids can occur.
- Being sedentary. If you spend a lot of time sitting, this can cause hemorrhoids. This is especially true if you are sitting on the toilet, trying to “force” a bowel movement while sitting.
- Anal intercourse. Anal intercourse can irritate the anus and rectum.
- Chronic constipation or diarrhea. If you have either chronic constipation or diarrhea or alternating bouts of both, the irritation can cause hemorrhoids.
- Genetics. Some patients simply have a predisposition to hemorrhoids.
What Are the Differences Between Internal vs. External Hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids can exist deep inside the rectum, and this internal type is not visible to the naked eye. On the other hand, external hemorrhoids are easily seen on visual examination. Often, patients may not be aware that they have internal hemorrhoids because they are typically painless. The one symptom associated with internal hemorrhoids is painless bleeding. However, participating in an activity such as heavy lifting can cause a prolapsed hemorrhoid, which is an internal hemorrhoid that has pushed through the anus.
On the other hand, external hemorrhoids are incredibly noticeable and painful, and these are the type you may try to treat with over-the-counter topical hemorrhoid cream for relief.
How Are Hemorrhoids Diagnosed?
Hemorrhoids are most commonly diagnosed with a visual exam of the anus and surrounding area by your GI doctor or physician. However, if internal hemorrhoids are suspected, or the doctor wants more information, they may perform a digital rectal exam, which is a short, in-office exam where the physician uses a lubricated, gloved finger to inspect the anus and rectum. If your physician wants to rule out colon cancers or other gastrointestinal disturbances, they may order additional tests, such as colonoscopy, anoscopy, or sigmoidoscopy, but hemorrhoids are typically diagnosed on the spot.
How Are Hemorrhoids Treated?
If your hemorrhoids were not helped with over-the-counter creams, your doctor may prescribe you a prescription topical cream. However, many of the treatment options for hemorrhoids are of the home remedy variety. They include:
- Sitz baths or warm water soaks for 10 minutes per day
- Fiber supplements to soften the stool (so you do not strain)
- Hydrocortisone (however, check with your gastroenterologist or physician first)
If none of the home remedies seem to help, your doctor may recommend Hemorrhoid Banding. This involves placing a rubber band around the hemorrhoid to cut off circulation to it, which in turn causes it to shrink.
Is It Possible to Prevent Hemorrhoids?
There are a few lifestyle changes you can consider to prevent hemorrhoids. Try to stay as hydrated as possible, and increase your water intake. Also, increase fiber in your diet, and take fiber supplements if your physician gives the okay. Both of these changes can help soften your stool and help you decrease constipation and straining when you have a bowel movement.
You can get dietary fiber from:
- Whole wheat
- Brown rice
You can also consider incorporating a regular exercise regimen into your routine and maintaining a healthy body weight.
If you need more information about hemorrhoids or need to be seen by a physician, contact us today, the physicians and staff at Carolina Digestive Health will be glad to help schedule you an appointment.