An anal fissure is a small tear or open sore in the lining of the rectum. It can cause pain and bleeding when passing a bowel movement, particularly if the stool is large or dry.…
What are hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids (piles) are swollen, painful varicose veins in the anus or rectum that often hang down outside your anus. They can look like small grapes and are often caused by constipation, obesity, heavy lifting or pregnancy. While they are not life-threatening, they can cause great discomfort and embarrassment.
Hemorrhoids are a very common condition and occur when there is a prolonged increased pressure on the veins inside your anus. This leads to varicose veins developing and forming hemorrhoids.
There are several health conditions and lifestyle factors that may put you at greater risk of developing hemorrhoids, these include:
- Having a family history of hemorrhoids;
- Already having an inflammatory bowel condition such as Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and ulcerative colitis;
- Constipation - the excessive straining associated with constipation puts great pressure on the blood vessels in and around your anus, which can cause the blood vessels to become swollen and develop into hemorrhoids;
- Pregnancy - hemorrhoids are very common during pregnancy and soon after childbirth, due to increased pressure on your abdominal blood vessels. You may become constipated during pregnancy if you are taking iron supplements, which can further increase your chance of hemorrhoids;
- Obesity - this increases the pressure on your pelvic region;
- Heavy lifting - straining to lift heavy objects or doing heavy manual labor can increase pressure on your anal region;
- Anal sex - this can cause tears and increase pressure on your anal veins;
- Ageing - as you get older hemorrhoids become more common, especially after 45 years of age;
- Laxatives and enemas - using too many of these can make you more prone to developing hemorrhoids, and;
- Ignoring the urge to go to the toilet and sitting for long periods of time.
There are two main types of hemorrhoids: internal and external:
These form higher inside your rectum and usually don't cause any pain. These hemorrhoids aren't usually noticed unless they bleed. Mucus and fecal incontinence sometimes occur with this type of hemorrhoid.
If they protrude outside your anus, they are called prolapsed hemorrhoids. You can sometimes push them back inside. They tend to protrude or hang down and can be very painful.
These are small lumps that form underneath the skin around your anus. If they develop a blood clot (thrombosed hemorrhoid) they will swell up and turn into hard painful lumps. The pain usually last two to three days, but the swelling may remain for weeks. Pain and itching are a common symptom and if ruptured, external hemorrhoids can bleed. Once they heal, a skin tag may remain.
Signs and symptoms
The signs and symptoms of hemorrhoids will depend on whether they are internal or external. If you have internal hemorrhoids, you may not be aware of them unless you become constipated and need to strain to pass a bowel motion. This straining puts pressure on the anal passage and can force internal hemorrhoids outside your anus. These prolapsed hemorrhoids can be itchy and quite painful.
Thrombosed external hemorrhoids can also be quite painful. They commonly appear as purplish, tender lumps around the anus.
Other symptoms of hemorrhoids include:
- Bleeding or mucus - a common sign of hemorrhoids is bright red blood, either on your toilet paper or in the toilet bowl. Bleeding from the rectum can also be a sign of a more serious condition, so always get it checked out with your doctor;
- Itchiness, irritation and inflammation around the anus;
- Pain when passing a stool or sitting for any length of time, or straining to pass a stool;
- Hard lumps around or near the anus, and;
- Fecal incontinence - internal hemorrhoids can cause fecal matter to leak from your anus, especially if they become quite large.
Methods for diagnosis
Hemorrhoids are a very common complaint and your doctor will have diagnosed many cases, so do not feel embarrassed about discussing this issue. Anal bleeding can also be a sign of a more serious underlying condition, so it is essential to have it checked out. Your doctor will need to take a full medical history, examine you and may perform some tests. Make sure to mention any unusual symptoms you are experiencing such as weight loss or change in bowel movements. A visual examination will be enough for your doctor to diagnose external or prolapsed hemorrhoids. Internal hemorrhoids may require additional procedures to be diagnosed.
Digital rectal examination (DRE)
A digital rectal examination involves your doctor putting a lubricated, gloved finger in your anus to feel for an internal hemorrhoid or to detect bleeding.
A proctoscopy is a common procedure that involves inserting a thin, hollow lubricated instrument (proctoscope) into your rectum. The instrument is lit and allows your rectum to be examined closely. If your doctor suspects that you are bleeding further up your colon, other tests may be suggested.
Sigmoidoscopy involves the insertion of a device called a sigmoidoscope into the bowel through the anus, allowing your doctor to see the lower part of your colon and rectum. Usually, you will need to use enemas to clean out the lower part of the colon and rectum, prior to having this procedure performed.
During a colonoscopy the entire length of the colon is examined using a long tube with a camera called a colonoscope. This is usually performed under light sedation, and generally requires cleaning out the colon and rectum with laxatives and/or enemas, prior to having this procedure performed.
Types of treatment
Many cases of hemorrhoids can be resolved with simple lifestyle changes. Avoiding constipation by eating a healthy diet that contains high-fiber, plenty of fruit, vegetables and whole grains, increasing your water intake and exercising regularly, can help treat and prevent hemorrhoids. Occasionally, laxatives may be needed to help keep stools soft to avoid straining.
With some cases though, you may need medications or surgery.
Thrombosed external hemorrhoids
Over-the-counter pain-relief medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help manage the pain. Keeping stools soft using laxatives can also help reduce pain when passing stools.
Special hemorrhoid creams to reduce pain, itching and inflammation may be prescribed or bought over the counter to treat thrombosed external hemorrhoids. Hydrocortisone creams may be prescribed to help with localized irritation in the short-term, but can thin your skin with long-term use.
Sitting in a warm, hip-deep bath (sitz bath) two or three times per day can greatly reduce the pain associated with thrombosed external hemorrhoids.
Moist toilet paper
Using moist, unperfumed toilet paper or wipes will help keep the anal area clean and cause less irritation than dry paper.
Applying a cold compress or ice pack may help relieve severe inflammation and discomfort.
Incision of external hemorrhoid
If a blood clot appears in an external hemorrhoid, your doctor can drain it with a simple cut, providing immediate relief. However, this should generally be performed within 24-48 hours of the condition developing.
Recurrent or prolapsed internal hemorrhoids
Rubber band ligation
This procedure is performed by a surgeon or gastroenterologist (a specialist doctor) and involves placing specialized rubber bands around internal hemorrhoids to cut off their blood supply. The hemorrhoid and rubber band will eventually fall off. This procedure may be performed in the doctor's clinic.
This involves a special chemical being injected into your hemorrhoids, in order to shrink them.
Coagulation (Infrared coagulation)
This involves using infrared radiation to treat internal hemorrhoids, which may need to be over a series of sessions. An intense beam of radiation creates scar tissue, which cuts off the blood supply to the hemorrhoid. After about seven to 10 days you may notice bleeding as the hemorrhoid falls off.
This procedure involves the surgical removal of your hemorrhoids, usually under a general anesthetic. Your surgeon will cut away or laser your hemorrhoids then close the wound with stitches. You may experience post-operative pain for a few weeks and may have to take laxatives to avoid constipation until you have healed completely. A hemorrhoidectomy may be necessary if you:
- Have external hemorrhoids which keep forming clots;
- Have tried banded ligation without success;
- Have constant bleeding, and;
- Have a prolapsed hemorrhoid which cannot be pushed inside.
There are always risks with any type of surgery. After a hemorrhoidectomy, potential complications may include pain, urinary retention, delayed bleeding, urinary tract infections, fecal incontinence, fecal impaction, infection and anal stricture.
This procedure involves removing enlarged hemorrhoidal tissue, then stapling the remaining tissue back into its normal position. This is considered less painful than hemorrhoidectomy.
If left untreated hemorrhoids can lead to fecal incontinence, anemia and recurring thrombosis (clot formation within the hemorrhoid).
In general, the long-term outlook if you have hemorrhoids is positive. Lifestyle changes and a high fiber diet alone may be enough to keep symptoms at bay most of the time. If you do have a flare-up, self-care remedies can usually help.
If you try to avoid constipation by eating a healthy diet that contains high-fiber, plenty of fruit, vegetables and whole grains, increasing your water intake and exercising regularly, this will lessen the chance of your hemorrhoids returning.
- Colorectal Surgery - Hemorrhoidectomy. Accessed 17 September 2014 from link here
- GESA - Gastroenterological Society of Australia. Accessed 17 September 2014 from link here
- Haemorrhoids | Better Health Channel. Accessed 17 September 2014 from link here
- Hemorrhoids: MedlinePlus. Accessed 17 September 2014 from link here
- Piles (haemorrhoids) - NHS Choices. Accessed 17 September 2014 from link here
FAQ Frequently asked questions
What are hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids, or 'piles', are varicose veins of the anal or rectal area that can protrude into or hang from the anus. They can bleed when you are passing a stool, but are generally not painful unless they develop a blood clot inside the vein, or begin to hang from the …
What causes hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids are caused by prolonged pressure on the veins of the pelvic and rectal area, causing them to swell and stretch. Factors that can increase the risk of hemorrhoids include pregnancy, heavy lifting, prolonged sitting, straining (such as with constipation …
Are there different types of hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids can be categorized as internal or external. Internal hemorrhoids are located inside the anus, while external hemorrhoids are found outside the anus. Internal hemorrhoids can also sometimes fall out of the anus. These are called …
What are the symptoms of hemorrhoids?
Internal hemorrhoids can cause rectal bleeding and prolapse. The bleeding tends to be bright red and can be seen on the toilet paper, on top of the stool, or in the toilet bowl. Fortunately, the bleeding tends not to last long. Over time, internal …
How serious or dangerous are hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids are common. Fortunately, they are usually not serious, although they can be painful.
How are hemorrhoids treated?
In most cases, you can control hemorrhoids with lifestyle and dietary changes, such as avoiding constipation by eating enough fiber and drinking plenty of water. High-fiber foods include fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Alternatively, consider using a fiber …
Are hemorrhoids painful?
Pain is unusual in internal hemorrhoids. However, if they protrude out of the anus, (prolapse) and can not be pushed back in the anal canal, they can be very painful. External hemorrhoids around the anus can also become painful if they develop blood clots inside …
Are hemorrhoids a sign of cancer?
Hemorrhoids are not a sign of cancer, but hemorrhoid symptoms may mask symptoms of bowel cancer. Typically, hemorrhoids cause rectal bleeding, but so can bowel cancer. It can be difficult to tell hemorrhoids from more serious conditions. Your doctor may …