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You may not know much about them if you’ve never experienced one yourself, but hemorrhoids are a common issue. In fact, everybody has them, but we don’t tend to call them hemorrhoids until they become symptomatic.
Whether you think you may be suffering from hemorrhoids or simply want to be more informed about this issue, we have some helpful information for you. Hemorrhoids can be an unpleasant problem, but understanding what you’re dealing with and how to prevent and treat the issue can help you find some much-needed relief.
Hemorrhoids are cushions of tissue,located in the lower rectum, that contain blood vessels, muscle and elastic fibers. Hemorrhoids contribute to our resting continence, meaning they assist the body in controlling the expulsion of stools. When you’re not experiencing itching, burning or discomfort from hemorrhoids, you probably don’t think about them at all, but they’re always there.
As with other tissue in your body, hemorrhoids can swell or become inflamed. This tends to occur when the connective tissues in a hemorrhoid weaken, allowing the hemorrhoid to slip down into the anal canal.
When hemorrhoids become swollen or inflamed, they may be referred to as piles, though are often still called “hemorrhoids”.
We will refer to inflamed hemorrhoids as both piles and hemorrhoids according to the common usage.
Experiencing inflamed hemorrhoids is a common issue that affects about half of adults by the time they reach 50. While many people get hemorrhoids in older adulthood, anyone can experience this problem.
The symptoms of hemorrhoids can differ depending on whether a person has internal or external hemorrhoids.
You may be suffering from hemorrhoids if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms:
Pain in the rectum or anus is often the first sign that you may have external hemorrhoids or an associated condition, such as an anal fissure. Piles can cause significant pain when the tissue is inflamed and swollen due to the relatively high number of nerves in the area. You may notice the pain is worse during a bowel movement* since the stool passing through puts pressure on the hemorrhoids.
*If you only experience pain during bowel movements, be sure to investigate possible other causes. These causes may be as minor as anal fissures or as serious as colon cancer.
If you notice a small amount of blood on the toilet paper after a bowel movement or see blood in your stool, this may be a sign of hemorrhoids. This blood will typically be bright red in color. This indicates that the blood hasn’t traveled far outside its normal pathways and is a good indication of piles or anal fissures somewhere in the lower anal cavity.
Bleeding can also be an indication of more serious conditions. For example, excessive amounts of bright red blood in the stool may indicate colitis, diverticulitis or colon cancer. Dark red blood in the stool, known as occult bleeding, may also be an indication of colon cancer. If you’re not sure what’s causing your bleeding, you should check with your doctor to determine whether further screening is appropriate. If you suspect you may have colon cancer, early detection is key to treating it effectively.
An itchy feeling in the rectum is one of the most common and irritating hemorrhoid symptoms. Itching or burning from hemorrhoids tends to be the worst just after a bowel movement. Itching can be caused by mucus discharge that comes from prolapsed hemorrhoids. This mucus irritates the skin and can cause even greater irritation when mixed with stool.
It may be tempting to clean the area to provide temporary relief, but adding moisture to the area or using cleansers that alter the pH can sometimes make matters worse. Additionally, you should avoid scratching the location, as this could cause you to break the skin. Broken skin in the rectum puts you at risk of developing an infection.
By definition, piles are swollen hemorrhoids. This means many hemorrhoid sufferers experience swelling in the anal area that they can feel. This swelling is caused by rubbing and irritation of the prolapsing tissue. Keep in mind that if you feel a lump on the rectum and have a fever, you could have an abscess. If you don’t have a fever, it’s more likely that your swelling is from a hemorrhoid.
In some instances, hemorrhoids will prolapse, meaning they come down through the anal canal and protrude outside the rectum. This tends to happen when piles have become more severe and advanced. Straining to move stools can cause a hemorrhoid to prolapse.
Medical professionals classify hemorrhoids mainly according to whether they are internal or external. As you’ll see, there are further classifications within these two categories.
Internal hemorrhoids exist inside the rectum, out of sight. Because there are no nerve endings in the rectum, these hemorrhoids are typically painless. The most common symptom of internal hemorrhoids is bleeding. You may see small amounts of bright red blood on your toilet paper or inside the toilet bowl. Internal hemorrhoids can also cause itching or a feeling of fullness following a bowel movement. Hemorrhoids that bleed but remain concealed in the rectum are classified as Grade I hemorrhoids.
While internal hemorrhoids typically go unseen, they can also push through the anal opening. These are known as prolapsing or prolapsed hemorrhoids. When prolapse occurs, internal hemorrhoids can be classified using a grading scale:
Prolapsed hemorrhoids can lead to the development of excess skin, called skin tags. In most cases, treating internal hemorrhoids will relieve the external symptoms. You may also want to have the skin tag removed, but this is not necessary for recovery.
External hemorrhoids often occur as bulges or lumps around the anus. Unlike internal hemorrhoids, you can feel these from the outside. Some people may mistake a prolapsed internal hemorrhoid for an external hemorrhoid. The difference is that external hemorrhoids form on or around the anus rather than descending down the rectum. Another way to tell the difference is that external hemorrhoids do not bleed, therefore if you are experiencing bleeding as a symptom and have ruled out anything more serious – you likely have internal hemorrhoids
People can also mistake external skin tags or irritation caused by internal hemorrhoids for an external hemorrhoid. In fact, most patients who complain about external issues are also suffering from internal hemorrhoids. This means addressing the internal hemorrhoids can provide external relief.
Because of the sensitive nerve fibers in this area, external hemorrhoids are often painful, especially when sitting. They also may bleed and itch. Pain can become even more severe if a blood clot forms in the hemorrhoid. Hemorrhoids containing blood clots are called thrombosed hemorrhoids. These can be internal, but they are more often external. These hemorrhoids are not especially dangerous, but they can be particularly uncomfortable.
Hemorrhoids result from an increase in pressure in the veins of the rectum, typically from too much straining. Many people underestimate how easily hemorrhoids can develop. The following circumstances could all potentially lead to piles:
Understanding the causes of hemorrhoids can also give some insight into how to prevent them. While we can’t always prevent hemorrhoids, especially if age is a factor, there are some ways you can lessen the likelihood that you’ll experience this problem.
If you’ve experienced painful piles in the past, you’ll be glad to know there are steps you can take to help with prevention:
Staying hydrated is important if you want to maintain good health and prevent constipation. The amount of water you need depends on factors like your activity level, but according to experts, the average man should have about 3.7 liters of water every day, and the average woman should have about 2.7 liters. These totals include all the fluids we take in, which partly come from food. A simpler guide that works well for most people is to drink eight glasses of water every day.
Eating a healthy diet rich in fiber is also a good way to prevent constipation and improve your overall health. Unfortunately, most Americans consume less than half of the recommended amounts of fiber each day. Avoid high-fat, low-fiber foods and instead look for fruits, vegetables and grains that are naturally high in soluble fiber. You may also want to take a fiber supplement if you struggle to get enough fiber or frequently suffer from constipation.
When you feel the urge to go to the bathroom, try not to put it off. Waiting too long could cause the stool to harden, making it harder to pass. If you want to avoid straining, pay attention to your body’s natural urges. If you’re struggling with having a bowel movement, don’t strain too hard or spend too long on the toilet. If you can’t have a bowel movement within two minutes, come back later and try again.
As we’ve seen, sitting for long periods can put undue pressure on the rectum, so try to move around whenever you can. If you work an office job, take breaks to stand up or try using a sit-stand desk so you’re not sitting for hours at a time. Maintaining a more active lifestyle overall through exercise can also help you maintain a healthy weight, which lessens your risk of experiencing hemorrhoids.
Considering the pain and discomfort associated with external hemorrhoids, it is no wonder that people seek ways to address the problem. Some treatment options for hemorrhoids are only aimed at providing temporary relief, while others intend to address the problem long term.
Some options you can try at home to soothe the itching and pain caused by hemorrhoids include:
Beyond these temporary measures, long-term solutions can also address the problem more thoroughly. It is best to try non-invasive options first and save surgery as a last resort.
Some non-invasive ways of addressing hemorrhoids are:
If you want to treat your piles to find long-term relief, consider hemorrhoid banding with the CRH O’Regan System. This system allows for a more comfortable, painless procedure and can help you get the results you desire. You don’t need to fast or otherwise prep for your procedure, and there is no recovery time when you’re done.
You can quickly get back to daily life and enjoy relief from pain, swelling and other symptoms of hemorrhoids. If you’re interested in this procedure, find a physician’s office near you that offers the CRH O’Regan Banding System.