Hemorrhoids are collections of normal, fibrovascular, arterial-venous structures that are part of the normal anal/rectal tissue. Also known as piles, hemorrhoids are an uncomfortable but common condition that many people experience at some point in their life. In fact, roughly 50 percent of adults experience hemorrhoids by the time they turn 50, yet very few people talk about it.
We all have the potential for symptomatic hemorrhoids. While they can cause painful symptoms, including itching, burning, and soreness, there are several treatment options that can help ease discomfort and reduce their impact on your daily life.
Hemorrhoids can be internal (inside your body) or external (outside your body), depending on where the inflammation occurs. Typically, external hemorrhoids create additional discomfort by irritating the skin around them. With external hemorrhoids, you may also see or feel a lump caused by blood congestion in that area (filling the teardrop-like pouch). Itching is often the first sign that congestion is forming. This congestion is not dangerous and often will go away on its own, but it can still leave skin feeling painful, itchy, or sore.
With internal hemorrhoids, you may notice blood when you wipe or in the toilet bowl after using the bathroom. While this can be scary to see, a small amount of blood isn’t cause for major concern as long as you are feeling minimal pain. However, you may experience irritation and pain if your internal hemorrhoids prolapse or protrude out of your body.
Hemorrhoids are often caused by constipation, strained bowel movements, or spending a lot of time sitting on the toilet, which all lessen blood flow in the area. It’s very common for pregnant women to get hemorrhoids since your growing uterus may press on the muscles and restrict blood flow. They also become more common as you age, as the supportive tissues in your anus and rectum weaken.
If you’ve never had hemorrhoids, you should see your healthcare provider to confirm that diagnosis. In most cases, you can easily treat hemorrhoids at home with a few changes to lifestyle habits and over-the-counter (OTC) products. Eating high-fiber foods, staying hydrated, or taking a stool softener can help reduce straining when you go to the bathroom. This also can shorten the amount of time you spend on the toilet, which can help you prevent symptoms from getting worse.
Additionally, taking a warm bath for at least 10 minutes can help you feel more comfortable. If you can’t take a bath, warm compresses also give the same relief for external hemorrhoids. Similarly, icing the area with a cold compress helps with swelling and reduces discomfort. There are also many OTC creams, ointments, suppositories, and witch hazel pads/soaks that can help with symptoms that don’t go away on their own. Many of these products contain lidocaine or hydrocortisone to numb the area and reduce irritation.
Remember to maintain good hygiene by cleaning the area daily, but avoid using soaps. Using soap on hemorrhoids can irritate them further, as can wiping the area aggressively with rough toilet paper.
If you find that your symptoms aren’t getting better after a few weeks of at-home treatment, there are a few in-office procedures your provider can perform to shrink and remove your hemorrhoids.
It may feel embarrassing to bring up this topic with your provider, but they are here to help you if you experience discomfort from hemorrhoids. There is also a rare possibility of blood clots or excessive bleeding with severe hemorrhoids, so consistent and honest communication with your provider is important to maintaining your health. Additionally, bloody stool can sometimes signal a more serious medical condition, so be sure to note any changes to your bathroom habits when talking to your provider.
During your discussion, your provider might also be able to help you pinpoint necessary changes to your diet to avoid constipation, which is a major cause of straining. It’s possible that your constipation could be caused by another condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). With IBS, certain medications and dietary plans are often helpful in alleviating gastrointestinal symptoms like constipation.
Hemorrhoids are a bothersome but treatable part of life for many people. If you’re finding it hard to deal with hemorrhoids on your own or you have questions about potential treatment options, your Atrius Health provider can help.