Hemorrhoids are swollen veins located around the anus or in the lower rectum. According to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, millions of Americans suffer with hemorrhoids (ASCRS).
There are two types of hemorrhoids, internal and external. Internal hemorrhoids develop within the anus; external hemorrhoids develop outside of the anus. Hemorrhoids are also called piles.
Of the two forms of hemorrhoids, external hemorrhoids are the most common and the most troublesome. Hemorrhoids cause pain, severe itching, and difficulty sitting. The good news is that they are treatable.
Experts are not sure what causes hemorrhoids to develop. Several factors could be to blame, including:
- straining during a bowel movement
- complications from chronic constipation
- sitting on the toilet for a long time
- pregnancy (when the uterus enlarges it presses on the vein in the colon causing it to bulge)
If someone in your family had hemorrhoids, you are also more likely to develop them.
Symptoms of hemorrhoids include:
- extreme itching around the anus
- irritation and pain around the anus
- itchy lump located near your anus
- fecal leakage
- painful bowel movement
- blood on your tissue after having a bowel movement
Although hemorrhoids are painful, they are not life threatening and often go away on their own without treatment. If you have them often, you may develop symptoms of anemia such as weakness and pale skin, due to blood loss, though this is rare.
A visual examination of your anus may be enough to diagnose hemorrhoids. To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor may wish to do a different examination to check for any abnormalities within the anus. This check is called a digital rectal exam. During this exam, your doctor inserts a gloved and lubricated finger into your rectum. If he feels anything abnormal, he may order an additional test, called a sigmoidoscopy.
A sigmoidoscopy is where your doctor uses a small camera to diagnose an internal hemorrhoid. This small fiber optic camera, called a sigmoidscope, is fitted into a small tube and then inserted into your rectum. From this test, your doctor gets a clear view of the inside of your rectum so that he or she can examine the hemorrhoid up close.
Hemorrhoids can be treated at home or by a doctor.
To minimize pain, soak in a warm tub of water for at least 10 minutes every day. You can also sit on a warm water bottle to relieve the pain of external hemorrhoids. If the pain is too much to bear, you can use an over-the-counter medicated suppository, ointment, or cream to relieve the burning and itching.
Home treatment can also include increasing your dietary fiber intake. Consuming foods that are high in dietary fiber can minimize the risk of developing hemorrhoids in the future.
Good dietary fiber sources include:
- whole wheat
- brown rice
Dietary fiber helps create bulk in the intestines, which softens the stool, making it easier to pass.
If you’re constipated, you can also use an over-the-counter fiber supplement to help soften your stool.
At the Doctor’s
If home treatments are not helping your case of hemorrhoids, your doctor might recommend getting a rubber band ligation. This procedure involves the doctor cutting off the circulation of the hemorrhoid by placing a rubber band around it. This causes loss of circulation to the hemorrhoid forcing it to shrink. Do not try this at home.
If rubber band ligation isn’t an option in your case, the doctor can inject a chemical into the blood vessel directly. This causes the hemorrhoid to reduce in size. This treatment is called injection therapy or sclerotherapy.
In order to prevent hemorrhoids, avoid straining during a bowel movement. Also, increase your water intake. Drinking adequate water can keep your stool from hardening.
Complications from hemorrhoids are rare but may include:
- blood clots within the swollen vein
- iron-deficiency anemia (caused by blood loss)