It’s easy to become overwhelmed by health concerns if you suspect you might have hemorrhoids. Are they dangerous? Do you need to see a special hemorrhoid doctor? How seriously should you take finding blood on your toilet paper?
Read below to find answers to some of the most common questions about hemorrhoids.
What Are Hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids are veins in your rectal and anus area that have begun to swell or bulge, often because of one or more of the following reasons:
- Straining during bowel movements.
- Being overweight.
- Being pregnant or giving birth.
- Having anal intercourse.
- Taking drugs that cause constipation.
- Lifting heavy weights.
There are three main types of hemorrhoids, internal, external, and thrombosed.
Internal hemorrhoids develop within the rectal cavity. You usually won’t know that they’re there unless you see blood on your toilet paper after a bowel movement, or one of them pushes through your anus (known as a prolapsed hemorrhoid). When that happens, the anus constricts blood flow, causing pain and irritation.
External hemorrhoids occur outside the anus but underneath the skin, appearing as a bulge. They can cause swelling, irritation, and bleeding.
If a blood clot forms in the vein, it is called a thrombosed hemorrhoid. It can feel like a hard lump with severe pain and swelling.
What Can I Do To Help Prevent Hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids are prevalent, with up to seventy-five percent of people suffering from a case in their lifetimes. You can’t prevent every case of hemorrhoids! But you can take steps to reduce the chances of having hemorrhoids in the first place, and to reduce the severity if you do get them.
There are two main strategies for hemorrhoid prevention: changing your diet and changing your lifestyle.
Eat a High Fiber Diet and Drink Plenty of Fluids
Fiber is excellent for your health in many ways! Hemorrhoids are generally caused by strain on the blood vessels in the anus and rectum. Your first line of defense is to reduce the amount of pressure you put on your body while defecating. If you’re not getting enough fiber in your diet, you may want to consider high-fiber supplements.
Fiber keeps your stool soft—as long as you’re drinking enough water. If you are dehydrated, your lower intestine will remove the water it needs from your stool, leaving it compact and difficult to evacuate.
Change Your Lifestyle to Decrease Strain on your Bowels
When you feel the urge to defecate, don’t hesitate! The longer stool remains within the body, the more your body draws water from it. However, when you’re defecating, don’t “bear down” or strain to push the stool out of your body. If you’re straining to move your bowels, it’s time to get more fluids and fiber in your diet.d
(Don’t worry about eating spicy foods, by the way! While spicy foods may irritate your bowels, they are not responsible for hemorrhoids.)
You can also help move your bowels by getting regular exercise. A twenty-minute “daily constitutional” can provide all kinds of health benefits, including helping your bowels move.
If you can avoid sitting for prolonged periods, it will help keep weight and strain off your bottom!
Are Bleeding Hemorrhoids Dangerous?
For the most part, hemorrhoids are not dangerous. You may not even know you have them unless you see blood or feel a lump or stiffness around your anus.
However, do not take your hemorrhoids for granted, particularly if you have bleeding hemorrhoids. Not everything that causes blood in your stool is harmless, for example, colorectal cancer. You should see a hemorrhoid doctor or general practitioner as soon as possible.
Hemorrhoids do not cause cancer. However, cancer can cause many of the same symptoms as hemorrhoids, including bleeding.
When Should I Worry about my Hemorrhoids and See a Doctor?
You should see a doctor when you’re suffering from any of the following symptoms:
- Bleeding from the anus, reddish or tar-colored stools, or spots of blood on your toilet paper.
- Pain in your rectum or anus.
- Milder symptoms like itching that don’t stop after a week.
- A feeling of being full in your rectum even after you’ve had a bowel movement.
- Leaking stool.
- Any tissue coming out of your anus (also known as a prolapse).
While hemorrhoids are generally mild, you should see a doctor to at least rule out anything more serious.
What Type of Doctor Should I See?
Start with your usual general surgeon or family doctor. Because hemorrhoids are so common, most doctors will have a lot of experience discussing your symptoms and possible treatment.
If your situation calls for referral to a hemorrhoid specialist, your regular doctor will refer you to a hemorrhoid doctor, that is, a proctologist or gastroenterologist.
What Can My Doctor Do to Fix Hemorrhoids? Can They Shrink Them?
There are multiple ways a hemorrhoid doctor or general practitioner can treat hemorrhoids if they aren’t responding to an increase in fiber, fluids, exercise, and over-the-counter treatments. Your doctor can handle many of those treatments during a routine office visit. The doctor uses several different methods to cut off blood flow to the hemorrhoidal area, which stops bleeding and often reduces swelling, shrinking the hemorrhoid without cutting it off.
- Constricting the area with a rubber band.
- Injecting certain types of fluids to act as an irritant.
- Infrared light to heat and coagulate blood in the area.
- A small electrical shock.
You may also be sent to an outpatient clinic or hospital in the most extreme cases, for example, for surgical removal or to staple a prolapsed hemorrhoid back into place.
Should I Push Hemorrhoids Back Inside?
Please wash your hands first! If you can gently push a prolapsed hemorrhoid back in, it is safe to do so—but don’t let that prevent you from seeing your doctor, as the hemorrhoid is not likely to stay in place, and a prolapsed hemorrhoid can be very painful.
What Happens if I Let my Hemorrhoids Go Untreated?
If your hemorrhoids don’t respond to fiber, exercise, and over-the-counter solutions, then they are not likely to go away and will likely become more painful over time.
But the most significant risk of letting your hemorrhoids go untreated is not discovering when a more severe issue is behind your symptoms. You can’t know for sure—so go to your doctor to find out for sure.
Every general practitioner and family doctor deals with many cases of hemorrhoids, and will not be embarrassed to discuss your symptoms with you!