Hemorrhoids are swollen or inflamed veins in the anal canal. Hemorrhoids can be very painful, but generally do not cause further health problems. There are two types of hemorrhoids: internal or external. Symptoms depend on the type, but may include bleeding during bowel movements, itching, or pain in the anal area. Rectal bleeding may also be a sign of colon, rectal, or anal cancer, so further screening may be required if blood is found in the stool.
The veins affected by hemorrhoids drain blood from the anal canal, and become swollen from increased pressure (such as while straining to pass stool). Both straining and prolonged duration of bowel movements may increase the risk of developing hemorrhoids. Additionally, being overweight or pregnant may also lead to hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids are very common, and it is estimated that over half of Americans will experience a hemorrhoid in their lifetime. They occur equally in men and women, and are seen most often in older adults.
Treatment for hemorrhoids may include changes in diet, exercise, steroids, or surgery. An increase in dietary fiber and fluid intake and adequate exercise reduce the risk of developing hemorrhoids. External hemorrhoids are generally treated by dietary changes, stool softener, and anti-itch ointment. More severe internal hemorrhoids may require surgical procedures to decrease blood supply to the inflamed vein(s), causing it to shrink and go away. Other surgical procedures may be used if simpler methods do not work. If you have been diagnosed with hemorrhoids, talk to your doctor about the most current treatment options.