When to See a Doctor for Hemorrhoids
Hemorrhoids is a condition marked by swollen veins in the anus and lower rectum. Also called piles, hemorrhoids affect about 1 in 20 people in the United States, and about half of people over age 50 have hemorrhoids. They can be internal (inside your anus or rectum) or external. You may wonder whether hemorrhoids dangerous and how long they last. Read on to learn more about this common condition.
How long do hemorrhoids last? The answer to this is variable. Treatment for small hemorrhoids may work within a few days, while larger hemorrhoids may last much longer. Most hemorrhoids can be managed at home but consider seeing your doctor for assessment and treatment if you have any of these symptoms:
- If the pain or bleeding is severe
- If you are soiling yourself with stool
- If the hemorrhoids keep returning
- If you are continuing to experience pain, bleeding and itching from the hemorrhoids after a week of at-home treatment
Hemorrhoids are caused by pressure in the lower rectum or anus or trauma to the area. This blocks or slows down blood flow from your rectal area and causes the veins to bulge and push out. Hemorrhoids can be caused by:
- Straining while moving your bowels
- Experiencing chronic constipation or diarrhea
- Being pregnant
- Being obese
- Sitting for extended periods
- Eating a low-fiber diet
- Performing frequent heavy lifting
- Having anal intercourse
Having anal infections
Hemorrhoids become more obvious as we age because the connective tissue that holds internal hemorrhoids inside the rectum may weaken, allowing the veins to bulge (prolapse) through the anus.
Hemorrhoid symptoms can be uncomfortable but there are several at-home remedies may help relieve the pain and discomfort. These include:
- Take a warm bath or sitz bath for 10 to 15 minutes after each bowel movement.
- Clean your anal area gently with warm water each day.
- Do not use alcohol-based or perfumed cleaning wipes around your anus. These cause drying and irritation.
- Moisten toilet tissue before using it to clean after a bowel movement.
- Apply cold compresses to your anus.
- Use stool softeners.
- Take over-the-counter pain (OTC) relievers, including acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen.
You may help prevent hemorrhoids from forming or from worsening with some lifestyle changes. These changes include:
- Do not strain while moving your bowels.
- Limit the amount of time you spend on the toilet.
- Increase fiber in your diet. Fiber helps give stool bulk so it can be moved through your intestines, and it also helps water remain in the stool so it does not become dry and difficult to pass.
- Increase fluid intake. Drink six to eight glasses of water and other liquids to help keep your stool soft.
- Exercise regularly. This will help regulate and stimulate your bowels.
- Apply topical ointments. OTC creams and suppositories can help relieve pain and reduce swelling.
In most cases, your family doctor or primary care physician can help you manage hemorrhoids. However, if your hemorrhoids are severe, you may need to see a doctor, such as a colorectal surgeon or a gastroenterologist. These specialists can provide more advanced hemorrhoid treatment, such as:
- Rubber band ligation: A surgeon places a special medical-grade rubber band round the base of the hemorrhoid to cut off blood circulation. Within a week, the end of the hemorrhoid shrivels and falls off, leaving behind scar tissue.
- Hemorrhoidectomy: This is an out-patient surgical procedure to remove hemorrhoids.
- Hemorrhoid stapling: Used primarily for internal hemorrhoids, this procedure uses a stapling tool that removes tissue.
- Sclerotherapy: This involves an injection of a chemical solution directly into the hemorrhoid to shrink it.
- Infrared photocoagulation: Used only for internal hemorrhoids, this procedure directs an infrared light toward the hemorrhoid tissue to cause scars, which block blood flow to the hemorrhoids.
- Electrocoagulation: Similar to infrared photocoagulation, this procedure uses electric current to cause scar tissue.
Some people may be embarrassed to speak with their doctor about hemorrhoids, but the condition is so common that your doctor will not be surprised if you bring it up. There’s no need to live with the pain and discomfort of hemorrhoids. Prompt treatment will allow you to live your life more comfortably.