Hemorrhoids, also known as piles, are clusters of swollen veins in the anus at the lowest part of the rectum. A fairly common condition in adults, by the age of 50 about half of men and women will experience the itching, rectal pain and bleeding associated with these bulging blood vessels. While not necessarily dangerous, the reoccurring swelling, irritation, bleeding and pain make hemorrhoids an uncomfortable condition.
While hemorrhoids can often be treated with over-the-counter medications, it is important to see a doctor if you experience bleeding, or feel a lump in the anal area, to rule out more serious causes.
Types of Hemorrhoids
There are two different kinds of hemorrhoids:
Internal hemorrhoids are inside the lower rectum and rarely cause discomfort. However, straining or irritation may cause bleeding and pain.
External hemorrhoids are under the skin around the anal area and are the most uncomfortable. When external hemorrhoids are irritated, they may itch or bleed. External hemorrhoids can cause thrombosis (blood clots) which can result in severe pain.
Symptoms of Hemorrhoids
Symptoms of hemorrhoids can include:
- Painless bleeding during bowel movement (the most common symptom)
- Discomfort, itching or pain in the anal area
- A sensitive or painful lump near the anus
- Stools that appear maroon or tarry in color (a sign of bleeding)
Causes of Hemorrhoids
There are a number of potential causes for the build-up of pressure in lower rectum that contributes to the development of hemorrhoids. Causes include:
- Chronic diarrhea or constipation
- Family history of hemorrhoids
- Low-fiber diet
- Sitting on the toilet for long periods of time
- Straining during bowel movements
The best way to prevent hemorrhoids is to keep stools soft and reduce pressure on the veins in the anus. Methods include:
- Drinking plenty of water
- Eating high-fiber foods
- Using a fiber supplement
- Going to the restroom as soon as the urge occurs
When to See a Doctor about Hemorrhoids?
The most common symptom of hemorrhoids is bleeding during bowel movements. Since rectal bleeding is also common with other more serious diseases, it is important to see a doctor to confirm hemorrhoids and rule out any other conditions. This can often be done with simple medical history and physical exam. A colonoscopy may be recommended to rule out colorectal polyps or cancer, particularly in people over age 45.
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