Because many people attempt to treat hemorrhoids with over-the-counter methods and delay reporting their symptoms to their doctor, it is hard to determine just how common they are. According to a 2007 study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, about 10 million people in the U.S. may be suffering from symptoms of the condition at any one time. This equates to about 4.4 percent of the population. Anecdotal evidence shows that this number may be even higher.
What Are The Symptoms Of Hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids are caused by engorged, swollen veins in or around the anus. They can occur either on the externally or internally. In some cases, they may coexist in both locations. While hemorrhoids can happen to babies, the elderly and every age between, they are most common between the ages of 45 and 65 years.
When people think of the commonly known hemorrhoid symptoms, they often think of burning pain and intense itching. These symptoms, along with a marble-sized mass near the anal opening, are indicative of external hemorrhoids. Because the symptoms are well-publicized and are difficult to ignore, many people seek over-the-counter treatments early on for external hemorrhoids. This is often effective, and can offer quick relief.
Internal hemorrhoids, on the other hand, rarely have any early symptoms. Often the first sign is rectal bleeding after a bowel movement. By this point, the hemorrhoid may be prolapsing, or protruding, out of the anus. For most people, this prolapse will return to its original position within a few minutes after the bowel movement. For others, though, it may require manually pushing it back into place. Any symptoms of internal hemorrhoids should be evaluated by your general practitioner or a proctologist, because they may mimic signs of a more serious condition.
Can I Prevent Hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids are caused by pressure around the anus. Some of the causes of this pressure are avoidable, while others are not. You can, however, take actions to reduce your chance of developing hemorrhoids, or having them recur after treatment.
Hemorrhoids may become inflamed due to a variety of activities and conditions, but most commonly they are due to straining during bowel movements. Lifting heavy objects, especially if you do it regularly, may also lead to the development of hemorrhoids. Sitting on the toilet for extended periods of time is another common cause, because the nature of the seat leaves the anus unsupported. For that reason, many colorectal specialists recommend minimizing the time spend reading or doing other activities in the bathroom.
Other risk factors for the development of hemorrhoids includes:
- Chronic constipation or loose stools
- A diet low in fiber
- Inadequate water intake
Some occupations may also put people at risk for hemorrhoids. These jobs require extended sitting without the opportunity for breaks. Truck drivers, assembly line workers and those who work in an office are included in this list. Using ergonomic seat inserts or investing in a desk chair with proper support may help reduce this risk, but regular exercise breaks are still recommended. Even standing and stretching for a few minutes every hour will help reduce the pressure and risk of hemorrhoid development. A short walk will reduce the risk even further.
How Are Hemorrhoids Treated?
While many hemorrhoid symptoms will resolve on their own, others will not. In the meantime, the pain and irritation can greatly affect your quality of life. Seeing a doctor is key in ensuring you have the correct diagnosis, can find short-term relief, and that your hemorrhoids clear up quickly.
Your doctor will diagnose you based on your symptoms as well as a visual exam. If you have internal hemorrhoids, a manual examination may also be necessary. Once the doctor has determined the severity of your hemorrhoids, a treatment plan can be put into place. In most cases, non-invasive treatments are effective at reducing hemorrhoids and minimizing any symptoms.
This may include:
- Eating a high-fiber diet and increasing water intake
- Taking stool softeners or laxatives to relieve constipation
- Using warm baths to reduce swelling and ease pain, especially after bowel movements
- Applying over-the-counter anti-inflammatories and topical ointments to speed healing
Will I Need Surgery?
While most hemorrhoids resolve without any sort of invasive treatment, more severe cases or those that are resistant to other treatments may require more attention. Hemorrhoidal injections, also known as sclerotherapy, and rubber band ligation are typically the go-to treatments in this case. Sclerotherapy consists of a series of injections near each hemorrhoid. During banding, a band is placed at the base of the hemorrhoidal tissue, cutting of its blood supply. Within a few days, the tissue should wither, eliminating all symptoms.
If sclerotherapy or rubber band ligation cannot be performed due to the severity of the hemorrhoids, or if they are ineffective, a surgical procedure to remove the tissue may be necessary. Known as a hemorrhoidectomy, this procedure is highly effective. While the postsurgical pain may be intense and there is an extended recovery time, most patients say the surgery offers a great improvement in quality of life over living with near-constant pain and discomfort from their hemorrhoids.
PPH or THD are less invasive ways to remove hemorrhoids. Your colon and rectal surgeon will advise you as to whether you are a candidate for these operations.
Los Angeles Colon and Rectal Surgical Associates
The board certified surgeons of Los Angeles Colon and Rectal Surgical Associates are experts on hemorrhoid prevention, diagnosis and treatment. They are specialists in all diseases of the colon, rectum and anus. By calling (310) 273-2310, you can schedule a confidential appointment and discuss any of your questions with your physician.