What are hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids are itchy, painful, and sometimes bleeding masses of swollen tissues located in the anus and rectum. Hemorrhoid symptoms can be either internal, located above the junction between the anus and the rectum, or external, located just outside the junction of the anus and rectum. They are common, and you can normally treat them with simple home remedies.
Colon cancer has some of the same symptoms as hemorrhoids. In fact, people often believe they might have colon cancer when they only have hemorrhoids.
Understanding what these symptoms are, how to treat them, and knowing when you should go see a doctor is important to stay healthy.
Symptoms of hemorrhoids
Usually, the first hemorrhoid symptom is seeing blood in the toilet or on toilet paper after you’ve had a bowel movement. While it is troubling to see blood in those places, it’s one of the most common symptoms of hemorrhoids. Other symptoms include:
- Itching in the anal area
- Pain in the anal area, especially when sitting
- Painful bowel movements
- One or more hard, painful lumps around the anus
Colorectal cancer might not cause symptoms immediately, but if it does, these could be some of the symptoms:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation, that lasts for more than a couple of days
- Blood in the stool, which might make the stool look dark brown or black
- Cramping or stomach pain
- Heavy rectal bleeding with bright red blood
- Needing to relieve your bowel but not having a bowel movement
- Unintended weight loss
- Weakness and fatigue
Causes of hemorrhoids
While the exact cause of hemorrhoids is unknown, they’re most likely to occur when there’s an increase in pressure in the area, like straining through a bowel movement. Certain people are more likely to get hemorrhoids, like pregnant women and older adults.
Additional causes of hemorrhoids can include:
- Chronic constipation
- Low-fiber diets
- Lifting heavy objects
- Sitting on the toilet for long periods of time
When to see the doctor
Hemorrhoids usually just need home remedies and time to go away. If the symptoms persist for more than a couple of days or get worse, however, you should consult a doctor. If there’s consistent blood appearing during bowel movements, it could be a sign of colon cancer or other bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
Diagnosis for hemorrhoids
Your doctor will be able to diagnose if your condition is hemorrhoids or something more serious after reviewing your medical history and performing a physical exam.
For external hemorrhoids, they will examine the area surrounding your anus, and for internal hemorrhoids, they will perform a digital rectal exam through an anoscopy, a colonoscopy, or a rigid proctosigmoidoscopy.
If your doctor believes it might be something more serious than hemorrhoids, they will likely refer you to a specialist like a colonoscopist to conduct a colorectal screening.
Treatments for hemorrhoids
You can do the most common treatments for hemorrhoids without a doctor. Diet and lifestyle changes are a good start. Doing exercise and consuming more fiber, for example, can make bowel movements easier and put less stress on the rectum and anus.
Other home treatment solutions include:
- Avoid straining during bowel movements
- Clean your anus properly after each bowel movement
- Take a sitz bath
- Use an ice pack
- Sit on cushioned surfaces
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen
- Try over-the-counter creams or ointments for hemorrhoids
You may need medical procedures for hemorrhoids that don’t go away after a couple of days with home treatments. These procedures are considered minimally invasive and can be done in the doctor’s office or as outpatient surgery in a hospital. Some of these procedures are:
In this procedure, the doctor wraps a small rubber band around the base of the hemorrhoid, cutting off its blood supply. The hemorrhoid will shrink and fall off within about a week.
This procedure might be necessary if you have large, protruding hemorrhoids in the anus that don’t go away with the Band It procedure. During a hemorrhoidectomy, the hemorrhoid and surrounding tissue are removed via a small incision.
An alternative to the hemorrhoidectomy is the stapled hemorrhoidopexy. In this procedure, the surgeon pulls the hemorrhoidal tissue up toward its normal position, stapling it in place. The staple falls out naturally over time.
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Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Harvard Health Publishing: "Hemorrhoids and what to do about them."
Keck Medicine of the University of Southern California: "Is It Hemorrhoids or Colon Cancer?"
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Diagnosis of Hemorrhoids."
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Symptoms & Causes of Hemorrhoids."
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