Nearly half of all adults have experienced hemorrhoid symptoms by the time they turn 50. A hemorrhoid is a swollen or enlarged vein in your anus or rectum. While not all hemorrhoids cause symptoms, it's impossible to ignore it when you have a hemorrhoid that causes burning, itching, and bleeding. Treating a hemorrhoid isn't difficult, and certain lifestyle changes can also help you prevent hemorrhoids before they develop. Here's what you need to do when you have a hemorrhoid and when you need to see a doctor.
Hemorrhoid symptoms can vary depending on the location of your hemorrhoid. Common symptoms of a hemorrhoid can include:
- Swelling around your anus
- Irritation or itching on or near your anus
- Pain or discomfort on or near your anus
- Fecal leakage
- Painful bowel movements
- Bleeding, which is typically painless, during bowel movements. This bleeding might show up on tissue or in the toilet.
- A lump on or near your anus that's sensitive or painful
You can develop a hemorrhoid internally (inside your rectum) or externally (around your anus) External hemorrhoids can form blood clots, which causes a thrombosed hemorrhoid — which can be especially painful, but normally goes away without treatment any time from within several days to two weeks.
What Causes Hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids are normal part of our anatomy but several risk factors may increase your chances of developing symptoms. These include:
- Chronic constipation
- Straining during a bowel movement
- Physical inactivity or a sedentary lifestyle
- Heavy lifting
When to see a doctor
Although a hemorrhoid isn't a necessarily a serious condition and most symptoms will resolve on their own without intervention, it's important to see your doctor if your symptoms persist longer than a few days or recur frequently. Bleeding during a bowel movement is usually the most common symptom. However, some conditions or diseases that are more serious, such as colorectal or anal cancer, can mimic the symptoms of a hemorrhoid. Your doctor can help rule these conditions out through a physical exam and additional testing. Your doctor can also help to ease your hemorrhoid symptoms, including excessive bleeding, if they're painful or don't improve over time. Call your doctor right away if you're having excessive rectal bleeding, dizziness, or lightheadedness.
When you have symptomatic hemorrhoids, you have a few different treatment options. Some of them can take place at home, while others need to be overseen by a doctor. These treatment options include:
- Soaking in a warm tub of water daily can help relieve pain.
- A warm water bottle may help external hemorrhoid pain.
- Over-the-counter suppositories or ointments may help relieve pain and itching.
- A cold compress can help to bring down swelling.
- Use over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain relief.
- Use fiber to add bulk to your stool, which makes bowel movements easier. Eating a diet rich in fiber can also ease symptoms of constipation and help prevent hemorrhoid symptoms.
- Practice good anal hygiene, cleaning the area daily and wiping well with soft tissue.
- Drink plenty of water, which can help treat a hemorrhoid and prevent one from forming.
- Your doctor may recommend a rubber band ligation to cut off the circulation to a hemorrhoid, which shrinks it. Other medical treatments may include an injection therapy called sclerotherapy, in which a physician injects medications to shrink the hemorrhoids.