Hemorrhoids, or piles, occur when one or more veins in the anus or rectum become swollen or dilated. The swelling causes a buildup of blood inside the veins. When this happens, your anal/rectal veins tend to expand into the membrane around the anal and rectal tissue. This becomes painful and uncomfortable, often hindering daily activities.
Even though some people can’t feel or see hemorrhoids, they look like a small lump or knob when filled with blood. While millions are affected in the US alone, many people might not even know that they have hemorrhoids. And of the ones who have symptoms, an even smaller percentage seeks proper treatment.
Causes of Hemorrhoids
Doctors have difficulty identifying the cause(s) of hemorrhoids with certain people. However, they generally happen due to increasing pressure on the anal and rectal veins. Following are some reasons for the increasing pressure.
- Sitting on the toilet for long periods
- Heavy manual labor
- Excessive use of laxatives
- Constipation and the resultant straining to increase bowel movement
- Genes and other hereditary factors
- Long hours sitting in an uncomfortable chair. Examples include road trips, long flights, and working a desk job in an office
- Pregnancy. The baby can put pressure on the veins during a pregnancy period. The same happens when pushing during delivery
- Lack of fiber intake
The likelihood of hemorrhoids also increases as you grow older. Many adults experience them at some point in their lives.
Types of Hemorrhoids
Following are the different kinds of hemorrhoids.
Internal hemorrhoids, as is evident from the name, form inside the rectum. They’re protrusions on the wall of your rectum canal, deep inside the anus and cannot be seen without colonoscopy. Many are painless but might bleed.
The location usually makes them asymptomatic and they mostly fade away on their own. However, larger internal hemorrhoids have been known to cause significant pain and discomfort. Symptoms include itching, pain, and burning.
Another reason you don’t feel internal hemorrhoids (of the smaller and less serious variety) is because there are no nerves to alert your mind to pain. A doctor may bring it to your attention during childbirth or a colonoscopy.
You might experience more symptoms if these hemorrhoids start growing and end up protruding from the anus. In that case, you’d feel soft lumps on your backside along with cutting, itching, and burning sensations. Severe pain might also hamper your everyday routine.
External hemorrhoids are bumps on the outside of your anus. Doctors can easily spot them during an examination. This is the type of hemorrhoids that most people envision when they think of this disease.
The only distinguishing factor between internal and external hemorrhoids is the “location.” However, there might be significant differences in their nature and the amount of pain or discomfort they can cause someone.
Internal hemorrhoids can form and heal without you knowing. On the other hand, external hemorrhoids have a few uncomfortable symptoms that must be resolved. Otherwise, the problem persists. Common issues in patients with external hemorrhoids include burning, itching, and pain during sitting, exercising, and bowel movements.
These are internal hemorrhoids that have grown and swelled to the point that they extend beyond the anus. You may experience no symptoms at all or telltale signs that you have hemorrhoids. Prolapsed hemorrhoids of the less serious kind emerge from the anus when you strain. However, they retract once you relax. The more serious ones continue to protrude even after you’ve stopped straining.
Prolapsed internal hemorrhoids are distinguished using the following grading system.
- Grade 1: No prolapse.
- Grade 2: Hemorrhoids that protrude/prolapse from the anus because of straining during a bowel movement. They retract and mostly heal themselves on their own.
- Grade 3: Prolapse that the actions of a patient can reverse.
- Grade 4: Prolapsed that is painful and can’t be pushed back in. Specialized treatment is needed in this scenario.
Thrombosed hemorrhoids are when the blood filled up in the internal or external hemorrhoids begins to clot (thrombosis). It is especially painful with external hemorrhoids. Symptoms of thrombosed hemorrhoids include intense redness, burning, swelling, itching, and pain. You might also notice a bluish color around the hemorrhoid area.
Thrombosed hemorrhoids are like small lumps around the anus, and the individual is usually able to feel them by touching the area. If you or someone you know has been dealing with thrombosed hemorrhoids, it’s important to get them treated at the earliest. Otherwise, you risk losing a lot of blood and damaging the body tissue surrounding that part.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Common Are Hemorrhoids In the US?
By one estimate, one in every 20 Americans experiences symptomatic hemorrhoids. People of all age groups, races, genders, and ethnicities can be affected by this problem. However, it’s more common in older people, with more than half of the population over the age of 50 dealing with hemorrhoids in one form or another.
How Are Hemorrhoids Different from Anal Fissures?
Both conditions have similar symptoms like bleeding, pain, itching, burning, etc. Hemorrhoids occur as a result of swollen anal or rectal veins. In contrast, anal fissures are caused by a tear or crack in the lining of the anus.
What Type of Prevention & Treatment Methods Are Effective for Hemorrhoids?
Eliminating constipation is the key to both avoiding and effectively treating hemorrhoids. Increasing water and fiber intake is a simple strategy, but it’s one of the best at keeping hemorrhoids at bay. Yet, a surprisingly small number of people do so.
Adequate hydration and a fiber-rich diet comprising of fruits, vegetables, and cereals will ensure soft and healthy bowel motions. If you’ve already gotten hemorrhoids, below are some effective treatments you can opt for.
- Ointments and creams meant specifically for hemorrhoid treatment.
- Band ligation. In this process, small bands are placed around your hemorrhoids through proctoscopy. The idea is to reduce the swelling and size of the hemorrhoids before eventually working on healing them.
- Surgery (last resort).
Remember to consult your doctor for the best possible way of treating hemorrhoids. Individuals have unique situations and the treatment might vary for each one.