Hemorrhoids are the kind of medical diagnosis that folks usually keep to themselves. The usually benign medical condition affects some 10 million people and is most common in older adults from about age 45 to 65. This does not mean that children cannot get them. Hemorrhoids can be painful, itchy and make you feel uncomfortable but they are easily treated and pretty preventable.

What are hemorrhoids?

Hemorrhoids, also known as piles are inflammed veins in the lower part of the anus and rectum. Veins can swell inside the anal canal to form internal hemorrhoids. They can also swell near the opening of the anus to form external hemorrhoids. You can have both types of swellings at the same time.

What causes hemorrhoids?

Typically, tissue inside the anus fills with blood to help control bowel movement. Hemorrhoids form when there is way too much pressure on the pelvic and rectal area veins. If you have a strained bowel movement or sit on a toilet for long periods of time to pass a stool, the increased pressure causes the veins in this tissue to swell and stretch which brings on hemorrhoids.

Constipation is not the sole cause of hemorrhoids; diarrhea can bring them on as well because straining can occur in both situations. Being overweight can also put someone at risk for hemorrhoids.  And if you have a family history of hemorrhoids chances are you might also inherit the problem.

What are the signs of hemorrhoids?

The symptoms for both internal and external hemorrhoids can result in:

  • Bleeding that is usually bright red after a bowel movement
  • Rectal itching
  • Rectal pain or discomfort especially when you wipe
  • a lump hanging outside of the anus after passing a stool

When should you see your physician?

You should see your doctor if your hemorrhoid symptoms are persistent or severe.  A word of caution, you should ALWAYS get rectal bleeding checked so that a doctor can rule out more serious health issues.

Hemorrhoids can usually clear up on their own, often with just an over-the-counter preparation. If symptoms are more annoying, a doctor can prescribe a medicine that is effective at tackling your symptoms.

Embarrassment should never come into play when letting your doctor examine you for hemorrhoids!

Preventing hemorrhoids

Making healthy and helpful lifestyle changes can reduce the incidence of hemorrhoids:

  • Eating more fiber in foods like veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts and fruits
  • Increase your intake of water and cutting down caffeine and alcohol
  • Don’t ignore the urge to empty your bowels
  • Steer clear of meds that can bring on constipation
  • Exercise and lose weight if overweight

Treating hemorrhoids

In may cases, just an OTC med will work to reduce inflammation and stop the itching. A doctor may advise using a stool softener to avoid straining during bowel movements.

If hemorrhoids are severe, a physician may tie off the hemorrhoids with rubber bands or scar the tissue around the hemorrhoids. These treatments reduce the blood supply to the hemorrhoids so that they shrink or go away.

Surgery to remove hemorrhoids may be done if other treatments don’t work.