Hemorrhoids, also known as piles, are swollen veins which form in and around the anus or in the lower part of the rectum. They are one of the most common causes of rectal bleeding and are often due to a buildup of pressure, which in turn can affect blood flow and cause the veins to swell. This pressure may result from pregnancy, being obese, pushing during bowel movements, or straining during physical activity. In addition, the risk is greater for those who are above the age of 50, sit or stand for long periods of time, have chronic constipation or diarrhea, consume a low-fiber diet, are often lifting heavy objects, or have family members who have had hemorrhoids.
There are two main types of hemorrhoids: internal hemorrhoids and external hemorrhoids. Internal hemorrhoids are located far inside the rectum, while external hemorrhoids form under the skin near the anus. The former is usually painless while the latter can cause severe pain, especially if a blood clot forms. When this happens, it is called thrombosis, and the clot itself is called a thrombosed external hemorrhoid. These form in the anal skin and can turn the hemorrhoid blue or purple in color, causing significant pain which is often accompanied by itching, bleeding, and irritation. As for symptoms, these vary from mild to severe and differ for internal hemorrhoids and external hemorrhoids.
Common signs of internal hemorrhoids include bleeding from the rectum or protrusion of the skin during a bowel movement. These types of hemorrhoids may or may not be prolapsed, which means that the hemorrhoid has fallen through the anal opening. Prolapsed internal hemorrhoids can cause pain and significant discomfort. Common signs of external hemorrhoids, on the other hand, include one or more sensitive lumps near the anus and itching or pain in the anal area, especially when sitting. Symptoms typically disappear within a few days, but can be made worse by coughing, sneezing, and vomiting.
Anal symptoms are most often attributable to hemorrhoids, but they could also be the first sign that something more serious is going on. For example, symptoms of hemorrhoids are similar to those of other digestive tract problems, and bleeding from the rectum could point to a number of bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and colon or rectum cancer. Therefore, if symptoms persist for more than a week or you experience bleeding from the rectum, it is advisable to see a doctor in order to rule out other potential causes.
Hemorrhoids affect both men and women and are seen in approximately half of adults over the age of 50. This is due to the fact that the supporting tissues in the anus and rectum weaken with aging. While hemorrhoids in and of themselves are rarely dangerous, there are a number of complications that may occur. These include blood clots, skin tags, infections of sores, strangulated hemorrhoids, and anemia. Skin tags refer to the extra skin that is left behind when a blood clot dissolves, and strangulated hemorrhoids are when the muscles around the anus cut off blood supply to internal hemorrhoids that have fallen through the anal opening.