What are hemorrhoids?
The term hemorrhoids refers to a condition in which the veins around the anus or lower rectum are swollen and inflamed.
Hemorrhoids may result from straining to move stool. Other contributing factors include pregnancy, aging, chronic constipation or diarrhea, and anal intercourse.
Hemorrhoids are either inside the anus—internal—or under the skin around the anus—external.
What are the symptoms of hemorrhoids?
Many anorectal problems, including fissures, fistulae, abscesses, or irritation and itching, also called pruritus ani, have similar symptoms and are incorrectly referred to as hemorrhoids.
Hemorrhoids usually are not dangerous or life threatening. In most cases, hemorrhoidal symptoms will go away within a few days.
Although many people have hemorrhoids, not all experience symptoms. The most common symptom of internal hemorrhoids is bright red blood covering the stool, on toilet paper, or in the toilet bowl. However, an internal hemorrhoid may protrude through the anus outside the body, becoming irritated and painful. This is known as a protruding hemorrhoid.
Symptoms of external hemorrhoids may include painful swelling or a hard lump around the anus that results when a blood clot forms. This condition is known as a thrombosed external hemorrhoid.
In addition, excessive straining, rubbing, or cleaning around the anus may cause irritation with bleeding and/or itching, which may produce a vicious cycle of symptoms. Draining mucus may also cause itching.
How common are hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids are common in both men and women. About half of the population has hemorrhoids by age 50. Hemorrhoids are also common among pregnant women. The pressure of the fetus on the abdomen, as well as hormonal changes, cause the hemorrhoidal vessels to enlarge. These vessels are also placed under severe pressure during childbirth. For most women, however, hemorrhoids caused by pregnancy are a temporary problem.
How are hemorrhoids diagnosed?
A thorough evaluation and proper diagnosis by the doctor is important any time bleeding from the rectum or blood in the stool occurs. Bleeding may also be a symptom of other digestive diseases, including colorectal cancer.
The doctor will examine the anus and rectum to look for swollen blood vessels that indicate hemorrhoids and will also perform a digital rectal exam with a gloved, lubricated finger to feel for abnormalities.
Closer evaluation of the rectum for hemorrhoids requires an exam with an anoscope, a hollow, lighted tube useful for viewing internal hemorrhoids, or a proctoscope, useful for more completely examining the entire rectum.
What is the treatment?
Medical treatment of hemorrhoids is aimed initially at relieving symptoms. Measures to
reduce symptoms includetub baths several times a day in plain, warm water for about 10
minutes application of a hemorrhoidal cream or suppository to the affected area for a limited
time Preventing the recurrence of hemorrhoids will require relieving the pressure and straining of constipation. Doctors will often recommend increasing fiber and fluids in the diet. Eating the right amount of fiber and drinking six to eight glasses of fluid—not alcohol—result in softer, bulkier stools. A softer stool makes emptying the bowels easier and lessens the pressure on
hemorrhoids caused by straining. Eliminating straining also helps prevent the hemorrhoids
from protruding.Good sources of fiber are fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. In addition,
doctors may suggest a bulk stool softener or a fiber supplement such as psyllium
(Metamucil) or methylcellulose (Citrucel).
How are hemorrhoids prevented?
The best way to prevent hemorrhoids is to keep stools soft so they pass easily, thus decreasing pressure and straining, and to empty bowels as soon as possible after the urge occurs. Exercise, including walking, and increased fiber in the diet help reduce constipation and straining by producing stools that are softer and easier to pass.