Hemorrhoids are one of the most common medical conditions in the United States. Most Americans will develop hemorrhoids during their lifetimes, with half of the population experiencing them by midlife. Despite their prevalence, discussions about hemorrhoids remain largely silent. Patients are reluctant to talk about them and consequently, remain ignorant of their cause and treatments.
Hemorrhoids are nothing more than swollen blood vessels in and around the anus. These blood vessels are normally present, but when the anal tissue undergoes increased pressure or straining, the vessels stretch and swell. The irritation of the tissue is similar to that of varicose veins. Pregnancy, heredity, and aging are all factors that contribute to hemorrhoids.
Common hemorrhoid symptoms include burning, itching, and pain during bowel movements. Patients often report the presence of bright red blood on their toilet paper or stool. The level of discomfort or pain is directly related to the type of hemorrhoids a patient develops.
Hemorrhoids fall into two general categories: internal and external. Symptoms of internal hemorrhoids usually include the presence of bright red blood in the stool or on toilet paper, although in some cases, they can be asymptomatic. In rare cases, an internal hemorrhoid can protrude through the anus to the outside of the body. Protruding hemorrhoids can cause a fair amount of pain.
External hemorrhoids develop under the skin outside the anus. External hemorrhoids tend to be more painful than internal ones because they can include a painful swelling around the anal opening. Thrombosed external hemorrhoids occur when a blood clot forms in the hemorrhoid.
For most people, hemorrhoids are a temporary problem, best treated with simple methods and preventative measures. Warm baths several times a day can help relieve some of the discomfort, and patients can apply ice packs to reduce swelling. While suffering from hemorrhoids, avoid food with seeds, which can irritate your bowel movements. While bowel movements may be painful, it is important to stay regular while treating hemorrhoids. Further straining could aggravate the condition and make the hemorrhoids more difficult to treat. Finally, patients can use over-the-counter hemorrhoidal creams or suppositories to provide relief from symptoms. However, it is important to follow the instructions on the package and use the product according to those indications.
When hemorrhoids fail to subside through simple treatment, surgical treatments exist to shrink hemorrhoid tissue. Surgical methods include rubber band ligation, sclerotherapy, laser coagulation, and hemorrhoidectomy.
Perhaps the most important component of hemorrhoid treatment is prevention. Staying well hydrated by drinking six to eight glasses of water daily helps soften stools. Eating the right amount of fiber through whole grains, fruits and vegetables helps the body produce bulkier waster, which eases pressure on the bowels and eliminates straining.