What You Need to Know About Hemorrhoids

Symptoms, Diagnosis, Prevention and Treatment

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Hemorrhoids are a bit of an enigma, aren't they? We see ads for hemorrhoid treatments and hear about it in various places, but even adults rarely discuss it openly. Quite often, it's only when you or someone very close to you has hemorrhoids that you ever really learn about it. 

Let's begin to take the mystery out of this condition that affects almost 10 million people each year. We'll learn about the symptoms, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of it so you can be prepared and have a good understanding of what your doctor is talking about.

What Are Hemorrhoids?

Hemorrhoids are swollen veins found on the anus and within the rectum. These are a common occurrence and it is estimated that half of all Americans will have hemorrhoids by the age of 50.

Hemorrhoids are described as internal or external. This depends on whether they appear inside the rectum or outside on the anus.

Common symptoms of hemorrhoids include feeling a lump on your rectum or on your anus. You might also feel rectal pain, discomfort, or itching, leakage of stool, or the appearance of a small amount of blood on your stool or toilet paper.

Should You See a Doctor?

In most cases, hemorrhoids do not require a trip to your doctor. However, if your hemorrhoids are severe and recurring or if you see any sign of blood in your stools, you should request an appointment.

Your doctor is likely to do a visual exam of your anus, followed by inserting their gloved and lubricated finger into your rectum to feel for hemorrhoids.

In some cases, your doctor might choose to use an anoscope or a sigmoidoscope to look further into the rectum.

What Causes Hemorrhoids?

Hemorrhoids can be caused by a variety of factors including certain medical conditions and lifestyle activities. The list includes regular constipation and diarrhea as well as pregnancy and even physical exertion (most commonly heavy lifting).

Knowing what causes hemorrhoids can help you prevent problems.

Can Hemorrhoids Be Prevented?

Hemorrhoids can be prevented and, as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. There are some simple self-care steps that you can follow to help take care of your rectum and prevent hemorrhoid problems.

The Mayo Clinic says that the best prevention for hemorrhoids is to do what you can to keep your stools soft. This helps them pass more easily and reduces irritation. To do this, you can eat high-fiber foods and drink plenty of water and other fluids (but not so much alcohol). You might also try fiber supplements and regular exercise, which can prevent constipation.

In addition, when having a bowel movement, try to go as soon as you get the urge and attempt not to strain. Rough toilet paper and other abrasives can also be catalysts for hemorrhoids, so try to be as gentle as possible.

Home Remedies and Hemorrhoid Surgery

Most of the time, hemorrhoids can be successfully treated with some simple home remedies as well as good self-care and hygiene. For instance, you can reduce swelling with ice packs or sitz baths or use over-the-counter or homeopathic hemorrhoid treatments.

Surgical and medical procedures become a treatment option when hemorrhoids do not respond to home treatment or frequently re-occur.

These include minimally invasive procedures that may be performed in your doctor's office. When they are severe, your doctor may recommend surgery. This is known as a hemorrhoidectomy.

It is important that you speak to your doctor about any hemorrhoid occurrences. They may be able to direct you to a better home treatment than you've tried and can help you track their progression.

Source:

Foxx-Orenstein AE, Umar SB, Crowell MD. Common Anorectal Disorders. Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 2014;10(5):294-301.

Mayo Clinic Staff. Hemorrhoids: Symptoms and Causes. 2017.

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