Hemorrhoids, also known as piles, occur when the veins located around the anus or in the lower rectum become swollen. Five out of 10 adults in the US have experienced the symptoms of hemorrhoids by the age of 50.
Hemorrhoids can either be internal or external. Internal hemorrhoids develop within the anus or rectum. External hemorrhoids develop outside of the anus. The main symptoms of hemorrhoids are pain, severe itching and difficulty sitting, which can feel very troublesome most of the time. The good thing is they are common and treatable.
What are the symptoms of hemorrhoids?
When you have hemorrhoids, you might experience the following symptoms:
- Extreme itching around the anus
- Irritation and pain around the anus
- Itchy or painful lump or swelling near your anus
- Fecal leakage
- Painful bowel movements
- Blood on your tissue after having a bowel movement
Hemorrhoids are painful, but they aren’t life-threatening. These symptoms 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.
Causes of hemorrhoids
While there isn’t enough evidence to confirm what causes hemorrhoids to develop, there are many possible factors. Some of these include straining during a bowel movement, complications from chronic constipation or sitting for a long period of time, especially on the toilet.
You might also develop them if you have a family history of hemorrhoids as they can be passed on genetically from parent to child.
Some risk factors that can increase your risk of hemorrhoids are overexertion when lifting heavy objects, being obese or straining your body.
Consistent anal sexual intercourse and diarrhea can also increase your risk of hemorrhoids.
Your doctor may perform a series of examinations to check for any abnormalities within the anus in order to diagnose hemorrhoids. Your doctor may perform an examination known as a digital rectal exam. During this exam, your doctor inserts a gloved and lubricated finger into your rectum.
If they detect any abnormalities, they may order an additional test called a sigmoidoscopy, which involves your doctor using a small camera to diagnose an internal hemorrhoid that is inserted into your rectum. Through this type of test, your doctor will get a clear view of the inside of your rectum so that they can examine the hemorrhoid up close.
Treatment for hemorrhoids can occur at home or at a doctor’s office.
To relieve pain, get in a warm tub of water and soak your body in it for at least 10 minutes every day. You can also sit on a warm water bottle to relieve the pain of external hemorrhoids. If you still experience pain, use an over-the-counter medicated suppository, ointment or cream to relieve the burning and itching. You can find hemorrhoid suppositories online or in stores.
If you are experiencing constipation, increase your intake of foods rich in fiber. You can also use an over-the-counter fiber supplement to help soften your stool. Two common supplements of this type are psyllium and methylcellulose.
Over-the-counter topical treatments, such as hydrocortisone or hemorrhoid cream, can ease your discomfort from hemorrhoids. Also avoid using dry or rough toilet paper when you wipe after a bowel movement.
Using a cold compress on your anus can help reduce hemorrhoid swelling. There are ice packs available in the market, specifically made to relieve hemorrhoids. Pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin, can also alleviate the pain or discomfort.
If home treatments aren’t helping with your 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. This procedure should only be performed by a medical professional. Do not try this at home.
If rubber band ligation isn’t an option in your case, your doctor may perform injection therapy, or sclerotherapy. In this procedure, your doctor injects a chemical into the blood vessel directly. This causes the hemorrhoid to reduce in size.
To prevent or avoid worsening hemorrhoids, avoid straining during a bowel movement. Also, try to increase your water intake. Drinking enough water can keep your stool from hardening.
Use the restroom as soon as you feel a bowel movement coming on to prevent hemorrhoids from developing. Exercise regularly to prevent becoming constipated, and don’t sit for long periods, especially on hard surfaces like concrete or tile.
Consuming foods that are high in dietary fiber can minimize the risk of developing hemorrhoids in the future.
Good dietary fiber sources include:
Dietary fiber helps create bulk in the intestines, which softens the stool, making it easier to pass.
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