Hemorrhoids: Causes, treatments, and prevention
Although hemorrhoids can be unpleasant and painful, they are easily treated and very preventable. As hemorrhoids generally get worse over time, doctors suggest that they should be treated as soon as they appear.
Fast facts on hemorrhoids
Here are some key points about hemorrhoids. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Women are more likely to get hemorrhoids while pregnant.
- The likelihood of developing hemorrhoids increases as a person ages.
- Hemorrhoids occur when the veins surrounding the anus are engorged or enlarged.
- Sometimes, medicines and surgery are needed to treat hemorrhoids.
In the majority of cases, simple measures will alleviate symptoms while hemorrhoids get better without treatment. However, medicines and even surgery may sometimes be needed.
- Topical creams and ointments: Over the counter (OTC) creams or suppositories, which contain hydrocortisone, are available. There are also pads which contain witch hazel, or a numbing agent that can be applied to the skin.
- Ice packs and cold compresses: Applying these to the affected area may help with the swelling.
- A sitz bath using warm water: A sitz bath is placed over the toilet. Some pharmacies sell them, and they may relieve the burning or itching symptoms.
- Moist towelettes: Dry toilet paper may aggravate the problem.
- Analgesics: Some painkillers, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen may alleviate the pain and discomfort.
Most hemorrhoid medicines are OTC. These include ointments, pads, or suppositories.
Active ingredients as hydrocortisone and witch hazel are known to relieve itching and pain. Consult with a doctor if these medicines do not show results after a week of treatment.
Nonsurgical treatment options
The most common type of nonsurgical hemorrhoid removal technique is rubber band ligation.
This is an outpatient procedure for internal hemorrhoids, where an elastic band is placed on the base of the hemorrhoid to cut off blood supply. The hemorrhoid will either shrink or fall off.
Another procedure is sclerotherapy, where a solution is injected into an internal hemorrhoid. This produces a scar that cuts off blood supply to the hemorrhoid.
Infrared photocoagulation and electrocoagulation are two other options.
Surgery may involve a complete removal of the hemorrhoids, known as a hemorrhoidectomy.
It may also involve stapling, where a prolapsed hemorrhoid is tacked back into place. These procedures are performed under general anesthesia, and most people can go home on the same day as the surgery.
Enlargement of the veins around the anus causes hemorrhoids.
They can occur for the following reasons:
- Pregnancy: They occur more commonly in pregnant women because, as the uterus enlarges, it presses on the vein in the colon, causing it to bulge.
- Aging: Hemorrhoids are most common among adults aged 45 to 65 years. This does not mean, however, that young people and children do not get them.
- Diarrhea: Hemorrhoids can occur after cases of chronic diarrhea.
- Chronic constipation: Straining to move stool puts additional pressure on the walls of the blood vessels.
- Sitting for too long: Staying in a seated position for long periods of time can cause hemorrhoids, especially on the toilet.
- Heavy lifting: Repeatedly lifting heavy objects can lead to hemorrhoids.
- Anal intercourse: This can cause new hemorrhoids or worsen existing ones.
- Obesity: Diet-related obesity can cause hemorrhoids.
- Genetics: Some people inherit a tendency to develop hemorrhoids.
Symptoms of hemorrhoids often include:
- painless bleeding
- itching or irritation in the anal area
- discomfort, pain, or soreness in the same area
- lumps and swelling in the anal region
- leaking feces
Symptoms can be unpleasant or alarming, but they are usually not a cause for concern.