While hemorrhoids can often be effectively cured with non-invasive treatments, they can cause a lot of pain and discomfort in the meantime. As with any condition that can have such a huge impact on your quality of life, it is always better to prevent hemorrhoids and never require treatment in the first place. And for many people, this may be easier than you think.
Some people undergo medical hemorrhoid treatment only to have the hemorrhoids recur months or years later, and have to repeat the process. In many cases, this can be prevented by altering a few aspects of your lifestyle to reduce your risk.
Do I Have Hemorrhoids?
Many have swollen hemorrhoidal tissue but the symptoms are so minor they don’t even notice. The most common sign of symptomatic internal hemorrhoids is rectal bleeding. This blood is usually bright red, and most often seen in the toilet bowl or on the toilet paper used after a bowel movement. More severe internal hemorrhoids may begin to protrude, or prolapse, out of the anus. This will cause pain and discomfort. Some people will be able to manually push the tissue back to its original position while others cannot.
For external hemorrhoids, the primary symptom is a painful swelling next to the anus. A lump may make it difficult to sit down, perform many activities and use the bathroom. Bleeding rarely occurs.
Just because you have these symptoms, however, does not mean you definitely have hemorrhoids. Only a doctor conducting a visual examination can properly diagnose the condition. Other more serious conditions may have very similar symptoms, and can be confused with hemorrhoids. These include anal fissures, anal abscesses, anal fistulas, pruritus ani and even Anal or rectal cancer.
What Causes Hemorrhoids?
Excess pressure in the anal area is the primary cause of the condition. According to the Mayo Clinic, a number of factors can contribute to this increased pressure. These may include:
- Straining to use the bathroom
- Remaining on the toilet where the anus is unsupported for extended periods of time
- Chronic diarrhea
- A diet low in fiber
- Low water intake
- Lack of exercise
Since many of these factors are preventable, people who are at risk of developing hemorrhoids or who fear a recurrence after treatment can take actions to minimize their risk. This includes eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, drinking plenty of water, losing weight and minimizing the time spent on the toilet. If you suffer from chronic diarrhea or constipation, you may want to discuss your options with your doctor. A stool softener or bulking agent may help you prevent further issues.
Some causes of hemorrhoids, of course, cannot be avoided. These include normal aging, pregnancy and some life-saving medications. Seniors are more likely to have hemorrhoids than younger people, because the muscles and other tissues in the rectum and anus weaken as you age. Following the other tips can still help to reduce the risk, however.
Pregnancy is a common cause of hemorrhoids, because the growing baby can place pressure on internal veins which drain the hemorrhoids, in addition to placing additional weight on the anus when sitting. The nature of childbirth can also exacerbate the condition, making hemorrhoids worse. In most cases, though, the mother’s condition clears up on its own after delivery.
How Are Hemorrhoids Treated?
Diet, water consumption and inactivity all may play a role in causing hemorrhoids, and can be altered to treat hemorrhoids as well. Doctors recommend a high fiber diet, staying well hydrated and walking or other regular physical activity to help ease bowel movements and reduce straining. Soaking in a tub of shallow, warm water can help reduce pain and swelling. Lastly, some doctors recommend certain over-the-counter creams or ointments to speed healing. For most people, making only these changes will provide relief.
In some cases, the irritation and other symptoms may actually make the condition worse. Rubbing to clean the area or scratching to relieve an itch often leads to further bleeding, itching and irritation. Many sufferers find relief by cleaning themselves using a shower, handheld shower head or bidet after using the bathroom.
While diet and lifestyle changes are often enough to provide relief from hemorrhoid symptoms, further medical intervention is sometimes necessary. Depending on the individual patient, there are a number of techniques that can be utilized. These include:
- Rubber band ligation: Known as RBL, this procedure wraps a band around the base of the hemorrhoid, effectively stopping blood flow to the tissue. When this procedure is successful, the hemorrhoid will wither away on its own within a few days.
- Sclerotherapy: Hemorrhoids may be reduced by injecting a special chemical solution into the area, shrinking the tissue.
- Infrared coagulation: Several techniques, most commonly an infrared coagulator may be used to shrink the hemorrhoidal tissue. Once the wound shrinks, the hemorrhoids should be cured.
If these techniques cannot be used or are ineffective, a more invasive treatment may be considered. Although it’s only used as a last resort, a hemorrhoidectomy is the most effective method of hemorrhoid removal with the least chance of recurrence. A hemorrhoidectomy is the surgical removal of hemorrhoids, usually using a scalpel. Recovery time can be anywhere from two to six weeks, depending on the individual.
Los Angeles Colon and Rectal Surgical Associates
The board certified surgeons of Los Angeles Colon and Rectal Surgical Associates are experts in hemorrhoid diagnosis and treatment, including minimizing the chance of recurrence. 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.