If you have hemorrhoids, you probably have a lot of questions about the conditions, such as how long they last and if they can go away on their own. You may also be wondering how serious hemorrhoids are and if there are other conditions that have similar symptoms. Let’s look at these and other common questions you may have about hemorrhoids.
What are hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids are a common, though sometimes painful, condition that occurs when the veins around the anus or the lowest part of the rectum become swollen and inflamed. They can be internal or external. Internal hemorrhoids form within the anus beneath the lining. External hemorrhoids are covered by sensitive skin and form near the anus.
Internal hemorrhoids are usually painless unless they prolapse, meaning they slip down from their usual position. Sometimes the only way to tell that you have internal hemorrhoids is if you notice bright red blood on toilet paper after you have a bowel movement. External hemorrhoids, on the other hand, may cause rectal bleeding or pain when you sit. They may feel like hard lumps that are swollen or tender to the touch.
About 1 in 20 Americans have hemorrhoids, and about half of adults over age 50 have them. Hemorrhoids become more common as we get older because the supporting tissues in the anus and rectum start to weaken and become more vulnerable to pressure. Pregnancy can also cause those tissues to weaken, as can chronic constipation, straining during bowel movements, or sitting on the toilet for extended periods of time.
Are hemorrhoids a serious condition?
Hemorrhoids are uncomfortable and sometimes painful, but they are generally harmless. Hemorrhoids don’t usually cause any serious health issues, but they can come back if the causes aren’t addressed.
Do hemorrhoids go away on their own?
How long hemorrhoids last varies from person to person. In many cases, small hemorrhoids will go away on their own within a few days without the need for treatment. Larger hemorrhoids, however, cannot go away on their own and will require treatment. These hemorrhoids usually cause itchiness, pain, or swelling. For pregnant women, hemorrhoids often go away after childbirth. It is possible for hemorrhoids to come back after they’ve been treated. If that happens, you should talk to your doctor about your options for prevention or removal.
Can hemorrhoids be prevented?
Hemorrhoids can be prevented by keeping your stools soft. Eating a diet that is high in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can soften the stool and increase its bulk so you don’t have to strain to have a bowel movement. You can also take fiber supplements if you can’t get enough fiber into your diet naturally. Drinking plenty of water and other liquids can also help soften your stool.
When you have a bowel movement, it’s important not to strain. Straining puts more pressure on the veins in the lower rectum, making it easier for hemorrhoids to form. You should also avoid sitting for long periods of time for the same reason.
Are there conditions that have similar symptoms as hemorrhoids?
Although hemorrhoids are very common and not usually a major health concern, there are other conditions that can have similar symptoms that are more serious.
- Anal fissures: Anal fissures are tears in the lining of the anal canal. They usually occur after a hard bowel movement. They usually cause pain with bowel movements and can sometimes cause bleeding as well. Anal fissures usually heal on their own within a few weeks if the area is not re-injured.
- Colon polyps: A colon or colorectal polyp is a growth that forms on the lining of the colon or rectum. This growth is usually noncancerous but constipation and bloody stools can be symptoms of colorectal cancer. Most polyps are discovered during colonoscopies or rectal examinations.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Inflammatory bowel disease, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, can cause rectal bleeding and discomfort. The sphincter, which is a ring-shaped muscle around the opening of the anus, can become inflamed and cause symptoms that are similar to hemorrhoids. It is possible to have both conditions; people with IBD often have hemorrhoids because of their abnormal bowel habits.
What are the treatment options for hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids can usually be treated at home with over-the-counter medication. Sitting in a Sitz bath several times a day can also help relieve the pain of hemorrhoids. If you have larger hemorrhoids or if home remedies don’t work, there are a few minimally invasive procedures that can help remove them.
- Sclerotherapy: A doctor injects a salt solution into an internal hemorrhoid, causing scar tissue to form and cut off the blood supply. This shrinks the hemorrhoid.
- Rubber band ligation: A doctor places a special rubber band around the base of the hemorrhoid to cut off the blood supply. This causes the banded part of the hemorrhoid to shrivel and fall off.
- Infrared photocoagulation: A doctor directs infrared light at a hemorrhoid, causing scar tissue to form and cut off the blood supply. Sometimes an electrical current is used instead; this is known as electrocoagulation.
- Hemorrhoid removal surgery: During a hemorrhoidectomy, a doctor uses a scalpel—with or without scissors—to remove a hemorrhoid. The procedure may be performed multiple times if there are multiple hemorrhoids. The doctor may leave the incision open if the location makes it difficult to close, or they may close the incision with a suture. The procedure is performed under anesthesia and most patients go home the same day. Only 10% of hemorrhoids require surgical intervention.
- Hemorrhoidopexy: Also known as stapling, this procedure is performed under anesthesia to treat prolapsed hemorrhoids. The doctor uses a surgical stapler to put the prolapsed hemorrhoid back into place inside your rectum and cut off the blood supply.
When should I see a doctor?
Hemorrhoids are incredibly common and nothing to be ashamed of. If you’re experiencing rectal bleeding, or have pain and discomfort in the rectum or anus, you should make an appointment with your doctor. You should also consult with your doctor if you’ve been using over-the-counter remedies for more than a week without any relief. Discuss any other symptoms you may be having with your doctor.
To make an appointment with one of our colorectal specialists, you can call our office at 203-281-7000 or fill out this online form. Some insurance plans require a referral from your primary care provider. If you don’t have a primary care doctor, PACT can help. You can use the searchable directory to find a primary care provider in Connecticut near you.