Hemorrhoids. Burning, itching and pain around the anus. If you’ve ever experienced these symptoms, you know how distracting and uncomfortable they can be. Read on to learn about the symptoms, causes, treatments and ways to avoid them altogether!

Q: How do I know if I have hemorrhoids?  

A: Symptoms of hemorrhoids include irritation, pain and/or extreme itching around the anus. There can be itchy or painful lumps or swelling, along with fecal leakage, painful bowel movements and blood after a bowel movement. If you’re living with some or all of these irritations, you’re not alone – a surprising number of people are suffering. Around 1 in 20 Americans have the condition, and your risk increases as you grow older. And according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, nearly half of people age 50 or better are living with this painful problem.

Q: What’s the difference between internal and external hemorrhoids? 

A: The difference is what you’d expect from their names – internal hemorrhoids are inside the anal canal, and external hemorrhoids occur right at the anal opening. Internal hemorrhoids are far enough inside your body that you usually can’t see or feel them, and bleeding might be the only sign you have them. They don’t cause much pain because there are few pain-sensing nerves inside the rectum.

External hemorrhoids are covered in skin around the anus, and there are many more pain-sensing nerves in this area. That’s why they hurt in addition to bleeding.

Sometimes hemorrhoids can prolapse (or get bigger and come out of the anus). This type is more likely to hurt, especially when you have a bowel movement. Prolapsed hemorrhoids frequently go away on their own. If they don’t, they can often be pushed back into place.

Q: What’s the cause? 

A: If your parents had hemorrhoids, you’re more likely to have them too. In general, hemorrhoids are triggered by swelling – when the pressure in your lower rectum affects blood flow, making the veins swell. The swelling can be caused by several factors:

  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Standing or sitting for long periods of time
  • Holding your breath while lifting something heavy, or staining when you do something that’s physically difficult
  • Eating a low-fiber diet
  • Chronic constipation or diarrhea
  • Pushing during bowel movements or straining on the toilet

Sneezing, coughing and vomiting can also make hemorrhoids worse.

Q: Are hemorrhoids dangerous? 

A: We’ve painted a bleak picture of hemorrhoids, and they can be pretty miserable. But there is an upside! Hemorrhoids aren’t likely to cause you any direct harm. Only when you have excessive bleeding (which happens in rare cases) that leads to anemia, are hemorrhoids a cause of serious concern.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk with your doctor. Because you can’t see for sure if internal hemorrhoids are the cause of bleeding, people with blood in their stool or new bleeding should share this information with a healthcare professional in case it is something more serious. So skip the urge to grab an over-the-counter treatment and ignore the pain. One thing you can do to bring quick relief: soak in a warm bath to soothe irritation. Wiping with witch hazel may also help.

Q: How can I keep this from happening to me? 

A: Start by examining your toilet habits. If you’re spending long periods of time reading or playing on your phone while you’re on the toilet, this little habit could be bad for your bottom. When you’re on the toilet, your cheeks are spread causing pressure to increase on anal tissue. People with constipation often fall into this trap – they sit and strain for long periods of time trying to get bowels to move. The best way to get things going again is to stay hydrated and eat enough fiber. Fiber helps water bind to stool, making it softer and allowing it to pass without trauma. You can meet your daily fiber needs with a fiber supplement or by incorporating foods like oatmeal, prunes, beans, spinach, and kiwi into your diet.

Although rare, serious hemorrhoids may need to be removed. Surgeons use a number of simple techniques to address the problem, but recovery can be uncomfortable. That’s why it’s important to try all other options first. For more information or to schedule a consultation with one of the surgeons at University Surgical Associates, please call (423) 267-0466.