A hemorrhoid is a mass of swollen, inflamed blood vessels and tissues in the anus and rectum. Hemorrhoids can cause an array of symptoms, including itching, pain, and bleeding, especially during bowel movements or when constipated. Some hemorrhoids can bleed during bowel movements without causing pain or itching. Large hemorrhoids can prolapse or “fall out” of the anus and extend beyond it, causing extreme discomfort. Without appropriate care, they can stretch the anus over time and contribute to symptoms of fecal incontinence and bowel leakage, as well as uncontrollable expulsion of gas.
No, rectal bleeding can be caused by other issues as well, including fissures or cuts and more serious conditions like colon cancer or inflammatory bowel disease. Rectal bleeding should be evaluated by a gastroenterologist to determine the cause and receive the most appropriate care.
Hemorrhoids tend to form as a result of repeated pressure in the anus or rectum. People who are overweight or obese are more likely to have hemorrhoids, and so are pregnant women and people whose jobs require long periods of standing or repeated heavy lifting. Chronic constipation and straining when having bowel movements can also cause hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids also become more common with age, occurring more often in people who are 50 years of age and older.
Hemorrhoids that cause recurrent or chronic symptoms often can be treated with a simple in-office procedure that places an elastic band around the hemorrhoid, slowly cutting off the flow of blood to the area. Within a few days, the hemorrhoid falls off and scar tissue forms in the area to help prevent hemorrhoids from recurring. Other procedures use special techniques to shrink the hemorrhoids without removing it.
While some over-the-counter products can be helpful in relieving the symptoms of mild to moderate hemorrhoids, they don’t treat the underlying problems, which means hemorrhoids can become worse over time. Plus, over-the-counter products should never be used instead of a doctor’s evaluation, which is essential for ruling out serious causes of rectal bleeding like IBD and cancer.
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