Hemorrhoids are enlarged veins in the anus or lower rectum. They often go unnoticed and usually clear up after a few days, but can cause long-lasting discomfort, bleeding and be excruciatingly painful. Effective medical treatments are available, however.
Hemorrhoids (also called piles) can be divided into two kinds, internal and external. Internal hemorrhoids lie inside the anus or lower rectum, beneath the anal or rectal lining. External hemorrhoids lie outside the anal opening. Both kinds can be present at the same time.
Hemorrhoids are a very common medical complaint. More than 75% of Americans have hemorrhoids at some point in their lives, typically after age 30. Pregnant women often develop hemorrhoids, but the condition usually clears up after childbirth. Men are more likely than women to suffer from hemorrhoids that require professional medical treatment.
Causes and symptoms
Precisely why hemorrhoids develop is unknown. Researchers have identified a number of reasons to explain hemorrhoidal swelling, including the simple fact that people's upright posture places a lot of pressure on the anal and rectal veins. Aging, obesity, pregnancy, chronic constipation or diarrhea, excessive use of enemas or laxatives, straining during bowel movements, and spending too much time on the toilet are considered contributing factors. Heredity may also play a part in some cases. There is no reason to believe that hemorrhoids are caused by jobs requiring, for instance, heavy lifting or long hours of sitting, although activities of that kind may make existing hemorrhoids worse.
The commonest symptom of internal hemorrhoids is bright red blood in the toilet bowl or on one's feces or toilet paper. When hemorrhoids remain inside the anus they are almost never painful, but they can prolapse (protrude outside the anus) and become irritated and sore. Sometimes, prolapsed hemorrhoids move back into the anal canal on their own or can be pushed back in, but at
other times they remain permanently outside the anus until treated by a doctor.
Small external hemorrhoids usually do not produce symptoms. Larger ones, however, can be painful and interfere with cleaning the anal area after a bowel movement. When, as sometimes happens, a blood clot forms in an external hemorrhoid (creating what is called a thrombosed hemorrhoid), the skin around the anus becomes inflamed and a very painful lump develops. On rare occasions the clot will begin to bleed after a few days and leave blood on the underwear. A thrombosed hemorrhoid will not cause an embolism.
Howard Baker, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,