Many people avoid talking about their hemorrhoid symptoms, even with their doctor. Hemorrhoids can be extremely uncomfortable, but they can also be embarrassing. This prevents many sufferers from mentioning their concerns with their health care provider, despite the fact that hemorrhoids are actually very common. In fact, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has collected statistics that show about 50 percent of Americans have experienced hemorrhoid symptoms by the time they reach age 50. In seniors, they become even more common.
How Aggravating Are Hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids are primarily an issue that affect your quality of life. While rectal bleeding, the most common symptom of internal hemorrhoids, can be scary, it’s rarely life threatening. The other symptoms of hemorrhoids are often more uncomfortable, though, and can greatly affect your ability to do many of the activities you want to do.
Pain, burning and itching are often the most annoying symptoms of the condition, although some people find that a serious case of prolapsed hemorrhoids leads to soiling of the underwear. Because of both the discomfort and the fear of embarrassment, hemorrhoids may limit social interactions as well as hinder work.
Internal hemorrhoids typically only bleed after a bowel movement. You may see bright red blood on the toilet paper or dripping into the toilet. You can further aggravate the area by straining to have a bowel movement or rubbing with toilet paper to clean yourself. Showering or using a bidet may be a better idea to maintain hygiene without causing additional irritation.
Some internal hemorrhoids prolapse, meaning they protrude out of the anus. Some will return to their internal position a few minutes after a bowel movement. Others may need to be gently pushed back into place manually. Those with severely prolapsed hemorrhoids may find that they cannot manually push them back. This can be uncomfortable, and medical intervention is recommended.
External hemorrhoids are seen in the form of a painful lump near the anus. While the pain can be almost unbearable, this swollen tissue rarely causes any other problems. Still, treatment is available and can help you return to your previous quality of life quickly.
Are Hemorrhoids Dangerous?
While hemorrhoids themselves aren’t dangerous for most people, it is important to make sure the symptoms you are experiencing are actually caused by hemorrhoids. This can only be accomplished through a visit to your doctor, who will diagnose you through analyzing your symptoms and doing a visual examination.
The reason a diagnosis is so important is because the symptoms of hemorrhoids — primarily the pain and rectal bleeding that are so common — can be a sign of another, much more serious condition. This may include an abscess, fissure or fistula.
Most concerning, the symptoms of colorectal cancer can also mimic the signs of hemorrhoids. While colon or rectal cancers are much more prevalent in the elderly, they may occur in any age group. For this reason, it is very important to talk to a healthcare provider about any rectal bleeding, even if you suspect it is related to hemorrhoids.
How Invasive Is Hemorrhoid Treatment?
For the vast majority of all patients who are treated for hemorrhoids, no invasive treatment is necessary. In fact, according to research published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, between 80 and 99 percent of patients who are diagnosed with hemorrhoids are able to find relief through diet and lifestyle changes. Some people may also use over the counter medications, based on recommendations by their healthcare providers.
In the rare case that more invasive treatment is needed, a variety of techniques may be used. Most commonly, rubber band ligation is used to cut off blood flow to the inflamed tissues. This will cause them to shrink within a few days, offering quick relief. Sclerotherapy and coagulation are procedures that are used often, and offer similar results.
For the most severe cases, hemorrhoids may require surgical treatment. During a procedure known as a hemorrhoidectomy, a colorectal surgeon uses a scalpel to remove the painful tissue. Other, less invasive techniques such as PPH or THD are more frequently used to remove the hemorrhoids. These are performed as outpatient procedures at a surgical center.
Surgical hemorrhoidectomies, only rarely used these days, can be extremely painful, and may require two to six weeks for a full recovery. This pain is often treated with opioid pain medication, and begins to subside after two to three days. Sitz baths and other techniques are also recommended to ease the pain and swelling. Most patients can return to work after a week or ten days of rest, although some activities may be limited.
While many people are afraid of the pain that is said to accompany a hemorrhoidectomy, most patients say they do not regret undergoing the procedure. In fact, many wonder why they waited so long to have a hemorrhoidectomy.
However, a few days of pain is typically chosen over months or even years of anxiety and discomfort from hemorrhoid symptoms. Your doctor will be able to answer any specific questions you have, and allay your fears in the rare case that a hemorrhoidectomy is needed.
Be sure to ask your colorectal surgeon about PPH and THD as first line surgical treatments.