What are hemorrhoids?

Hemorrhoids are swollen veins, also known as piles. They exist either inside or outside around your rectum or anus.

Hemorrhoids are one of the most common reasons you may notice bleeding during bowel movements.

Causes of hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids happen when blood vessels get stretched and irritated due to pressure in your lower rectum.

Common causes include:

  • Straining during bowel movements
  • Chronic diarrhea or constipation
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy

Risk factors for hemorrhoids

  • Genetics — people are more likely to get hemorrhoids if someone in their family also has this condition
  • Age — as you age, your tissue can weaken
  • Pregnancy — the weight of the baby may put additional pressure on your lower rectum, putting you at risk for hemorrhoids
  • Lack of fiber in your diet

Symptoms of hemorrhoids

The symptoms are different if your hemorrhoids form within your body or on the outside of your body.

Internal hemorrhoids may create painless bleeding when you go to the bathroom.

Hemorrhoids on the outside of your body are closer to some of your body's pain nerves and can be quite sore and itchy.

Other symptoms include:

  • Swelling near your anus
  • A lump that may be sensitive to the touch
  • Bleeding or discomfort when going to the bathroom

Diagnosis of hemorrhoids

If you develop any of these symptoms, see a doctor to get a diagnosis. Bleeding can also be a symptom of something much more serious. However, your doctor can do a simple physical exam.

They'll also ask about your medical history to diagnose you. They may examine your anal canal with a plastic tube called an anoscope.

Your doctor might order different tests to rule out other causes, especially if you're over 45 years old.

Treatments for hemorrhoids

This condition is very common. There are many treatments to reduce pain and help your hemorrhoids heal. Your doctor may recommend that you get more fiber in your diet. This can reduce bleeding and the size of your hemorrhoids. You can do this with a fiber supplement. Start slowly. Some people complain of bloating or gas associated with the increase in dietary fiber.

Exercise can help bowel movements happen more regularly and easily. This might also reduce irritation. Try to create a regular bowel movement habit, too. If you feel the urge to go, do so right away instead of waiting. Waiting for any reason may make your stool back up. Consider setting a habit of sitting on the toilet for a few minutes in a relaxed state. This can help your body feel more comfortable with regularity.

Topical relief comes in many forms. There are over-the-counter creams or wipes that can help soothe you. Some people prefer ice packs. These are available in your local pharmacy. You can also take a warm bath to ease any pain.

If you have a blood clot that forms from an external hemorrhoid, it can be very painful. You may be able to treat it with home treatment. You might also have to have it surgically removed. If these basic treatments don't work to heal your hemorrhoids, speak to your doctor about surgery options.

Recovery from hemorrhoids

Once your hemorrhoids are treated, it helps to continue lifestyle changes. These can prevent more hemorrhoids from forming in the future. Along with exercising more, continue to eat more fiber, including vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans and nuts. Drink plenty of water, too.

You should also avoid sitting for a long time – especially on the toilet. This can put pressure on the veins in your anus and make future hemorrhoids more likely.

Find a gastroenterologist nearby

Mercy Health locations that can treat you