January 12, 2017 253
What are hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids, also called piles, are swollen and inflamed veins in your anus and lower rectum. Sometimes they swell up so the vein walls become thin, stretched and irritated by passing bowel movements.
Hemorrhoids are usually of two types: internal and external. Internal hemorrhoids lie far enough inside the rectum - you can't see or feel them. They usually don’t hurt because there are only a few pain-sensing nerves in the rectum. Bleeding may be the only sign that they are there.
External hemorrhoids lie within the anus and are usually painful. If an external hemorrhoid prolapses to the outside (usually in the course of passing stool), you can see and feel it. Sometimes blood clots form within prolapsed external hemorrhoids thereby causing an extremely painful condition called a thrombosis.
What causes hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids may result from straining during bowel movements or from the increased pressure on these veins during pregnancy, among other causes.
Factors that might cause increased pressure include:
- Straining during bowel movements
- Chronic diarrhea or constipation
- Sitting for long periods of time on the toilet
- Low-fibre diet
Hemorrhoids are more likely to occur as people get older because the tissues that support the veins in the rectum and anus can weaken and stretch with aging.
What has a low-fibre diet got to do with hemorrhoids?
Diet plays a very important in causing as well as preventing hemorrhoids. People who consistently eat a high-fibre diet are not as prone to getting hemorrhoid as those who prefer a diet of highly processed foods. A low-fibre diet that is coupled with inadequate fluid intake can cause constipation, which can contribute to hemorrhoids in two ways: It promotes straining during a bowel movement and it also aggravates the hemorrhoids by producing hard stools that further irritate the swollen veins.
What are the signs and symptoms of hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoid symptoms usually depend on its location. Internal hemorrhoids lie inside the rectum. Since you usually cannot see or feel them, they usually don't cause discomfort. In case of external hemorrhoids, these are the symptoms:
- Painless bleeding during bowel movements — you might notice small amounts of bright red blood on your toilet tissue or in the toilet bowl
- Pain or discomfort
- Itching or irritation in your anal region
- A lump near your anus, which may be sensitive or painful
- Swelling around your anus
Pregnancy/Post-Partum and Hemorrhoids
It has been common sight among the new mothers that I have seen - pregnancy related hemorrhoids can be said to be caused due to increased pressure on the veins. Now what about post-partum hemorrhoids - these are the worst anyone can experience, some would say. Now when a mother is breastfeeding her new-born day-in and day-out, the amount of fluid intake goes drastically lower than the amount of fluid output. This leads to constipation-related hemorrhoids. So new mothers out there, fret not, it is something that each and every mother goes through. The main treatment for this will be - increase fluid intake, eat lot of fibre-rich foods and you should be on the right track.
When should you see a doctor?
Bleeding during bowel movements is the most common sign of hemorrhoids. But rectal bleeding can occur with other diseases, including colorectal cancer and anal cancer. Don't assume that bleeding is coming from hemorrhoids without consulting a doctor.
How can hemorrhoids be treated?
Most often, hemorrhoids can be treated with simple diet change and change in bowel habits. Surgery is not necessarily an option unless the hemorrhoids have become large and very painful.
How can you prevent yourself from getting hemorrhoids?
The best way to prevent hemorrhoids is to keep your stools soft, so they pass easily. To prevent hemorrhoids and reduce symptoms of hemorrhoids, follow these tips:
- Eat high-fibre foods –Include more fruits, vegetables and whole grains in the diet. This can help soften the stool and also increase its bulk. This will help in avoiding the straining that can cause hemorrhoids or worsen symptoms from existing hemorrhoids.
- Increase fluid intake –Drinking at least six to eight glasses of water and other liquids (not alcohol) each day helps keep stools soft.
- Don't strain.Straining and holding your breath when trying to pass a stool creates greater pressure in the veins in the lower rectum.
- Don’t wait!If you get the urge to pass a bowel movement don’t wait. If the urge goes away, stools could become dry and be harder to pass.
- Exercise –It is essential to stay active in order to help prevent constipation and also to reduce pressure on veins - which can occur with long periods of standing or sitting. Exercise can also help you lose excess weight that might be contributing to hemorrhoids.
- Avoid long periods of sitting -Sitting too long, particularly on the toilet, can increase the pressure on the veins in the anus.
Did you know - hemorrhoids can be treated in clinical setting? Read this to find out about it!
by Hridya Anand
A biochemist by education who could never put what she studied to good use, finally found GetDoc as a medium to do what she loved - bring information to people using a forum that is dedicated to all things medical. View all articles by Hridya Anand.