If you’re suffering from hemorrhoids, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. It’s estimated that 50 percent of people in the United States will experience hemorrhoids by the time they turn 50 years old, and over 10.4 million people currently have them. It’s one of the most common problems that everyone avoids talking about. However, it’s important to discuss your hemorrhoids with your doctor, since what you think is a hemorrhoid can sometimes be something far worse, such as colon cancer, rectal cancer or inflammatory bowel disease.
“Doctors have seen and heard everything, so you don’t have to feel embarrassed when talking about your hemorrhoids,” says Dr. Christopher Buzas, a general surgeon at Geisinger. “It’s essential to get a medical diagnosis to rule out other diseases and not rely on your own opinion about what’s causing the problem.”
What are hemorrhoids
Hemorrhoids are swollen, irritated veins around your anus and the lowest part of your rectum. There are two types of hemorrhoids:
- Internal: This type of hemorrhoid is inside the rectum, so you will not be able to see it. They are usually painless and the only symptom may be bright red blood on the toilet paper or in the toilet after a bowel movement.
- External: This type of hemorrhoid is under the skin around the anus. It may look like pink or purple bumps. Because they are located in an area where there are pain-sensing nerves, they may hurt as well as bleed.
“Anything that causes an increase in pressure can make the veins in your lower rectum and anus swell, causing hemorrhoids,” says Dr. Buzas. “This can happen if you are obese, pregnant, straining to have a bowel movement or lifting something heavy.”
It’s time to see your doctor
“While most people think of hemorrhoids as a minor problem, they can be very painful,” says Dr. Buzas. “Knowing when to treat conditions such as hemorrhoids on your own – and when it’s better to seek help – can help you avoid unnecessary complications.”
If you are experiencing any of the following situations related to your hemorrhoids, make an appointment to see your primary care physician:
- You experience rectal bleeding or see bright red blood on your toilet paper.
- You have pain and discomfort in your rectum or anus.
- You have tried over-the-counter remedies for more than one week without relieving your symptoms.
- You have bowel movements that are maroon or tarry in color, which can be a sign of bleeding.
If your rectal bleeding will not stop and you feel dizzy or faint, you should consider it a medical emergency that warrants a trip to the emergency room.
When you see your doctor for hemorrhoids, you will first be asked about your symptoms. You will then lie on your side with your knees pulled to your chest. Your doctor will examine you to see if you have external hemorrhoids. Your doctor will then perform a digital rectal exam, which involves inserting a gloved, lubricated finger into your anus. This is done to identify internal hemorrhoids or other abnormalities.
“If you’re suffering from hemorrhoids and have been reluctant to visit your doctor, don’t wait any longer,” adds Dr. Buzas. “Your doctor will ensure that you’re comfortable during the exam, after which you’ll quickly be on your way to experiencing relief from your symptoms.”