By Julie Khanna
Hemorrhoids are soft fleshy lumps filled with blood vessels, similar to varicose veins, found at the end of the rectum or around the anus area. Also known as piles, they are found inside the rectum (internal) or outside (external). Although common, hemorrhoids can be uncomfortable and an area of self-consciousness, but in some cases, they can prove dangerous.
Nearly three out of four American men and women will experience hemorrhoids throughout their lifetime. According to the National Institute of Health, that number increases to almost 50% over the age of 50. Although they are unlikely to pose a significant health risk, hemorrhoids are known to be unsightly, itchy, painful, uncomfortable, and can cause hygienic risks.
Luckily, advances in research and treatment offer effective options as simple as lifestyle changes and home treatments to more permanent solutions as minimal as same-day in-office procedures.
The main cause of hemorrhoids is increased pressure in the lower rectum caused by straining during bowel movements, lifting heavy objects (including weights), childbirth, obesity, and long periods on the toilet. Other causes include anal intercourse, low-fiber diets, chronic diarrhea or constipation, and normal aging due to the weakening and stretching of the tissues that support the veins in your rectum.
The likelihood of being affected by dilated veins, or hemorrhoids, in a lifetime is high, so knowing the signs and symptoms is imperative.
Signs and Symptoms
Sometimes the first sign of a hemorrhoid is simply palpation, meaning the person finds it incidentally while showering or touching near the anus. Other symptoms include itching, irritation, pain, discomfort, or swelling. However, it’s the most common sign that may have the most significant need for further evaluation.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the most widely recognized sign is bright red blood in your stool, on your toilet paper, or in your toilet. This symptom can also be associated with colon cancer.
“Rectal bleeding in the absence of an obvious external lump near the anus or rectal bleeding accompanied with a change in bowel habits, change in stool, unintended weight loss, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain or discomfort, or any new unexplained symptoms need further evaluation,” said fellowship-trained colorectal surgeon Dr. Kyle Eldredge who has a practice in Wellington. “Hemorrhoids do not cause colon cancer, but they share some symptoms, and there have been cases where diagnoses have been prolonged because symptoms were mistakenly dismissed as hemorrhoids.”
There are many treatment options ranging from prevention to surgical removal of hemorrhoids, called hemorrhoidectomies. The best way to prevent hemorrhoids is by keeping your stools soft. This can be accomplished with high-fiber foods, plenty of fluids, fiber supplements when indicated, relieving your bowels as soon as you feel the urge, weight management, and avoiding long periods of sitting (especially on the toilet).
Seeing your doctor is helpful for learning which invasive and non-invasive treatments are an option.
“I think most people assume we will recommend a surgical procedure as the first solution, and that’s not typically the case. We consider the severity of the hemorrhoid(s) and how much it interrupts the quality of life. Most of the time, we can help with an over-the-counter medication combined with education on lifestyle changes or a non-surgical option,” adds Dr. Eldredge, who routinely treats hemorrhoids. “Some people qualify for a small office-based procedure using the CRH O’Regan System, which allows us to use gentle suction for a painless, permanent solution that takes minutes and does not require anesthesia. We really have so many newer options, including a hemorrhoidectomy when needed.”
Despite most hemorrhoids being a non-threat, there are many reasons that many people want to address them. For starters, they can get worse or bigger. In addition to sharing some symptoms with more serious diagnoses, rare but severe cases of hemorrhoids can cause anemia, strangulated hemorrhoids, and blood clots can form in thrombosed hemorrhoids, all of which can cause immense pain.
Visiting an expert is the safe next step, especially if symptoms don’t improve after a week with over-the-counter remedies and lifestyle changes. Learn more about Advanced Surgical Care in Wellington, Florida, by visiting www.toplinemd.com/advanced-surgical-physicians or calling (561) 333-1335.