Whether you consider them a fit topic for conversation or not, it’s evident that people want information about hemorrhoids.
In Google’s annual roundup of popular search terms, hemorrhoids was the top trending health issue in the United States for 2012. (The “top trending health issue” means that this particular search had the highest amount of traffic over a sustained period in 2013 as compared to 2012.)
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), these swollen and inflamed veins in the lower part of the rectum or anus affect 75% of people at some point in their lives. Hemorrhoids are most common in adults ages 45 to 65, and particularly for women during pregnancy and after childbirth. Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are also contributors.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for evaluating a number of products used to treat and remove the often itchy and sometimes painful protuberances.
What causes hemorrhoids? How are they treated? Are there preventive steps you can take to keep from having hemorrhoids yourself?
Causes and Symptoms
For the most part, hemorrhoids are caused by increased pressure in the veins of the anus. There are two kinds of hemorrhoids: internal (not covered by skin), which form inside the rectum, and external (covered by skin), located near the anal opening.
“You often can’t see or feel the internal ones,” says FDA medical officer Herbert Lerner, M.D., a colon-rectal surgeon. “But straining during bowel movements and constipation can cause these hemorrhoids to bleed and occasionally push through the anal opening.” This is known as a protruding or prolapsed hemorrhoid, and it causes pain or irritation.
Sometimes blood pools in an external hemorrhoid and forms a clot, Lerner says, which can result in severe pain, swelling and inflammation. If the blood is dark red or black, you should call your health care professional, as it can be a sign of something more serious, he cautions.
Common symptoms of hemorrhoids include:
- itching and pain (especially when sitting);
- bright red blood on toilet tissue, stool, or in the toilet bowl;
- pain during bowel movements; and
- one or more hard, sore lumps near the anus.