Hemorrhoids are rarely talked about, but they are surprisingly common. In fact, as many as one in every 25 Americans may be suffering from hemorrhoids symptoms. Because they often lead to intense discomfort, including burning pain and itching, hemorrhoids can greatly affect your quality of life if not managed effectively.
Do I Have Hemorrhoids?
The symptoms of hemorrhoids vary greatly based on their location. Internal hemorrhoids often exist for an extended time before any symptoms at all become apparent. Because they lie inside the rectum where there are few nerve endings, they do not cause the pain or burning usually seen with external hemorrhoids.
The signs of external hemorrhoids are hard to ignore. They typically include:
- Swelling around the anus
- A marble-sized lump near the anus
- Itching and irritation
- Pain or burning
- Slight bleeding during bowel movements
Internal hemorrhoids are often overlooked because they do not have many of these classic symptoms. Most people become aware of an issue due to painless bleeding while using the bathroom. This is most often seen on the toilet paper, on the stool itself or dripping into the toilet bowl. This bleeding is caused by irritation from the bowel movement. Straining to pass stool may also force internal hemorrhoids through the anus. This is known as prolapsing, and may cause intense pain if they cannot return to their original position. In some cases, patients can manually push them back inside for relief.
If you’ve never been diagnosed with hemorrhoids before, it is important to consult with your doctor to make sure they are what is causing your symptoms. Other conditions have similar symptoms, and may require a different treatment. Your doctor will talk to you about your symptoms and conduct a visual examination. For internal hemorrhoids, a manual exam may be necessary. This required that the doctor insert a gloved, lubricated finger into your anal canal to check the severity of your condition.
How Can I Manage My Hemorrhoids?
Once your doctor confirms that you have hemorrhoids, you will most likely be given a plan to manage your hemorrhoids based on the specifics of your condition. In most cases, surgical treatment will not be necessary. With a few lifestyle changes such as increasing the amount of high-fiber foods in your diet and drinking more water, hemorrhoids often resolve on their own in a few weeks.
Your doctor may also prescribe stool softeners to ease bowel movements. This is especially true if you have been suffering from constipation. Warm sitz baths and other-the-counter ointments may be used to manage pain, itching and swelling until the symptoms disappear.
Colorectal surgeons in Los Angeles generally recommend avoiding the causes of hemorrhoids in order to speed recovery. This means you may need frequent breaks from sitting. Adding a few short walks throughout the day may improve blood flow and speed healing as well.
If your symptoms do not respond to these treatments within a few weeks, or if they worsen, it is important to call your doctor. There are effective medical treatments available for hemorrhoids that do not respond to these first-line treatments.
When Is Surgery Necessary?
While the majority of hemorrhoids respond to the first-line treatment, some do require more invasive techniques. These often include ligation through a rubber banding procedure that cuts off blood flow to the hemorrhoid, or chemical injections to shrink the inflamed tissue during a procedure known as hemorrhoidal sclerotherapy.
In some situations, surgical removal of the hemorrhoidal tissue is the best option. This is done through a procedure known as a hemorrhoidectomy. This surgery is typically done as an outpatient procedure. Surgery may be recommended for management of your hemorrhoids if:
- You are suffering from symptoms of a prolapsed internal hemorrhoid
- You require surgery for other conditions that complicate your case
- You have external hemorrhoids that are thrombosed
- Your hemorrhoids have not responded to other treatments
How Can I Prevent Recurrence?
If lifestyle changes are not put into place following hemorrhoid treatment, they may recur. This includes eating a high-fiber diet to regulate bowel movement and ensuring an adequate water intake. Remaining active is also key, especially because it can also help you lose weight. Hemorrhoids are more common in those who are obese, because of the extra weight placed on the anus while sitting.
Avoiding sitting for long periods of time is important, no matter your weight. Ensuring you take regular breaks can be key to preventing a hemorrhoid recurrence. Minimizing the time spent sitting on the toilet is also important, since there is no support for the anus in this position.
If you have chronic problems with constipation, you should discuss this with your doctor. A fiber supplement or stool softener may be appropriate, and could help you reduce your risk of recurrence.