Hemorrhoids are enlarged or swollen veins in the anus or rectum caused by frequent pressure. Nearly half of adults experience hemorrhoids by the age of 50, but there is a trend of younger adults developing this condition. Fortunately, there are several treatment options available to relieve aggravating symptoms and improve quality of life for people with hemorrhoids.
Also referred to as piles, hemorrhoids can be classified as either internal or external:
- Internal hemorrhoids occur inside the rectum and are painless, although they tend to bleed.
- External hemorrhoids develop under the skin surrounding the anus and are usually more painful.
Hemorrhoids are caused by repeated pressure or strain on anal or rectal veins. There are several factors that can contribute to hemorrhoid development, including:
- Having chronic constipation
- Repeatedly straining during bowel movements
- Sitting on the toilet for long periods of time
- Having chronic diarrhea
- Maintaining a low-fiber diet
- Being obese
- Frequently lifting heavy objects
Pregnant women also have an increased risk of this condition, as an enlarged uterus can press on veins in the colon and cause them to bulge.
The signs and symptoms of hemorrhoids may vary based on what type is present. A few of the most common symptoms include:
- Bleeding during bowel movements
- Intense itching around the anus
- Pain, swelling or hard lumps around the anus
- Fecal leakage
If you experience bleeding during bowel movements or pass dark, tarry stools or blood clots, you should promptly consult a physician. Anal and colon cancer produce many of the same symptoms as hemorrhoids, so it’s important to rule out these more serious conditions.
A review of symptoms and a physical exam are sometimes enough to diagnose hemorrhoids. A digital rectal exam may also be performed, along with a sigmoidoscopy or anoscopy test to view inside the rectum.
If you’ve been diagnosed with hemorrhoids, there are a variety of over-the-counter medications and lifestyle changes that can help reduce your symptoms, including:
- Consuming more fiber and drinking more water
- Taking stool softeners
- Using creams, pads and ointments that can relieve pain and itching
If these options don’t provide meaningful relief from symptoms, there are several minimally invasive procedures that can reduce bothersome inflammation or remove the hemorrhoid completely. Tampa General Hospital’s Gastroenterology Institute provides a full range of surgical and non-surgical treatment options for hemorrhoids and other anal and rectal conditions.