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Hemorrhoids are common, so don’t be shy about seeking relief.

Most people don’t want to talk about hemorrhoids. But keeping silent could stand in the way getting relief for a condition that’s very common. And your doctor certainly doesn’t mind addressing the topic of hemorrhoids. In fact, they want to discuss your symptoms. Because what you think is a hemorrhoid could be something more serious. It’s best to get your hemorrhoids checked out early, for your peace of mind and to protect your health.

“Doctors have seen and heard everything, so you don’t have to feel embarrassed when talking about hemorrhoids — especially since nearly half of all adults experience them by age 50,” says Dr. Christopher Buzas, a colorectal surgeon at Geisinger. “However, it’s essential to get a medical diagnosis to rule out other conditions, like colon cancer or irritable bowel syndrome, 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 won’t 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.”

When is it time to see your doctor? 

“While most people think of hemorrhoids as a minor problem, they can be very painful,” explains 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’re experiencing any of the following situations related to your hemorrhoids, make an appointment to see your doctor:

  • You experience rectal bleeding or see bright red blood on your toilet paper.
  • You have pain and discomfort in your rectum or anus.
  • You’ve tried over-the-counter remedies for more than one week without relieving your symptoms.
  • You have bowel movements that are maroon or dark like tar in color, which can be a sign of bleeding.

If your rectal bleeding won’t 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’ll first discuss your symptoms. Be sure to answer any questions directly and honestly, to get the best diagnosis. Your doctor will then examine you for external hemorrhoids, internal hemorrhoids and other potential issues. 

“Getting your hemorrhoids checked out is no different than — and as important as — getting a routine colonoscopy, Pap test, mammogram or prostate exam,” Dr. Buzas notes. “There’s no reason to be reluctant or delay your care.”

He adds, “Your doctor will make sure you’re comfortable during the exam, after which you’ll quickly be on your way to experiencing relief from your hemorrhoid symptoms.”

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