What are hemorrhoids?

Minor blood spots can be a symptom of hemorrhoids, but if there's more consistent blood appearing during bowel movements, it could be a sign of colon cancer, Crohn's disease, or ulcerative colitis.
Minor blood spots can be a symptom of hemorrhoids, but if there's more consistent blood appearing during bowel movements, it could be a sign of colon cancer, Crohn's disease, or ulcerative colitis.

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:

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:

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.

QUESTION

Everyone has hemorrhoids. See Answer

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:

Band it

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.

Hemorrhoidectomy

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.

Staples

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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Medically Reviewed on 12/16/2020
References
American Cancer Society: "American Cancer Society Guideline for Colorectal Screening."

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."