Don't let hemorrhoids be a part of your life forever

You have hemorrhoids. They last and last. They are painful, annoying, and embarrassing; possibly causing itching, discomfort, and bleeding, swelling and difficulty with hygiene. But you are not alone. An estimated 75% of people experience hemorrhoids symptoms at some point, but only an estimated 4% of people go to the doctor for help.

No wonder it's a problem so many people can't get rid of once and for all! The Alabama Colon & Rectal Institute have been helping patients across Birmingham diagnose and treat hemorrhoids for years. If you're wondering whether or not you may have hemorrhoids, read on to learn more.

What are hemorrhoids?

Technically, everyone has hemorrhoids, or piles. They are the pillowy cluster of veins that lie just below the mucus membranes lining the lower rectum and anus. But the condition we call hemorrhoids are swollen veins in your anus and lower rectum, similar to varicose veins. Hemorrhoids may be located inside the rectum (internal hemorrhoids), or they may develop under the skin around the anus (external hemorrhoids).

Here are a few hemorrhoid symptoms to look out for:

  • Pain, especially while pooping
  • Blood in your stool, on the toilet paper after wiping, or in the toilet bowl
  • Pain while sitting
  • Bleeding
  • Itching
  • Swelling, or moist, hard lumps around the anus

Internal hemorrhoids may actually be painless, even if they cause bleeding. But they can easily become prolapsed, extending beyond the anus and causing several problems. Prolapsed internal hemorrhoids are particularly susceptible to infection, collecting trace amounts of mucus and stool particles.

What causes hemorrhoids?

Hemorrhoids are caused by pressure building up in your lower rectum, affectin gblood flow and making the veins sell. Hemorrhoids are often associated with symptoms of chronic constipation or diarrhea. These include:

  • Straining during bowel movements
  • Prolonged periods of time sitting on the toilet
  • Low-fiber diets

Sometimes hemorrhoids are caused by vigorous exercise or heavy lifting, which can put strain on your lower rectum.

They are also very common in pregnant women or those who have just given birth, the increased pressure on veins during pregnancy and during childbirth being the cases.

Rule out other problems besides hemorrhoids

Most people who have hemorrhoids discover them by either feeling the lump of an external hemorrhoid when they wipe after a bowel movement; noticing drops of blood in the toilet bowl or on toilet paper; or feeling a prolapsing hemorrhoid (protruding from the anus) after bowel movements.

With a history of symptoms, physicians like those of us at Alabama Colon & Rectal Institute, can make an accurate diagnosis on the basis of an examination of the anus and anal area.

We want to identify the hemorrhoids, but it's also very important that we rule out other causes of hemorrhoid-like symptoms, such as:

  • Anal fissures
  • Fistulae
  • Bowel disorders like ulcerative colitis
  • Blood coagulation disorders
  • Perianal (around the anus) skin diseases
  • Infections
  • Tumors

We want to stress that you should not assume that rectal bleeding is due to hemorrhoids, especially if you are over 40 years of age. Rectal bleeding can occur with other diseases, including colorectal cancer and anal cancer.

If you have bleeding along with a noticeable change in bowel habits or if your stools change in color or consistency, consult your doctor. These types of stools can signal more extensive bleeding elsewhere in your digestive tract.

Seek emergency care if you experience large amounts of rectal bleeding, lightheadedness, dizziness or faintness.

What we can do about hemorrhoids & what to expect at your appointment

Understandably, many people are embarrassed to go to their doctor about their hemorrhoid problems. Ruling out the above conditions is very important, and getting a medical exam will help us recommend an effective treatment plan.

One of the first things we will do is ask you to describe your symptoms. Then we do perform an examination to see whether your anus is inflamed, and whether enlarged hemorrhoids are present. While we know this might be a little embarrassing and uncomfortable, hemorrhoid exams are usually painless but somewhat uncomfortable. Also remember that we have done this hundreds of times! (Don’t forget, we’re called the Butt Hutt for a reason.) It’s no big deal to us, and we just want to help you as best as we can.

If you seem to have enlarged hemorrhoids, we may recommend a proctoscopy. During a proctoscopy, a short tube with a light and lens will be used to examine the lining of your rectum and anus. This allows us to better see the enlarged hemorrhoids and determine their size. This procedure is usually painless as well.

Prevention & treatment for hemorrhoids

Fortunately, there are many effective prevention and treatment options for internal and external hemorrhoids. Many people can get relief from symptoms with home treatments and lifestyle changes.

The best way to prevent hemorrhoids is to keep your stools soft, so they pass easily. To prevent hemorrhoids and reduce symptoms of hemorrhoids, follow these tips:

  • Eat high-fiber foods. More fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This will help soften stool and increase its bulk, which will help you avoid the straining that can cause hemorrhoids.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Drink six to eight glasses of water and other liquids (not alcohol) each day to help keep stools soft.
  • Consider fiber supplements. Most people don't get enough of the recommended amount of fiber, which is 25 grams a day for women and 38 grams a day for men. Studies have shown that over-the-counter fiber supplements/stool softeners, such as Metamucil and Citrucel, can improve overall symptoms and bleeding from hemorrhoids. These products help keep stools soft and regular.
  • Don't strain. Straining and holding your breath when trying to pass a stool creates greater pressure in the veins in the lower rectum.
  • Go as soon as you feel the urge. If you wait to pass a bowel movement and the urge goes away, your stool could become dry and be harder to pass.
  • Exercise. Stay active to help prevent constipation and to reduce pressure on veins, which can occur with long periods of standing or sitting. Exercise can also help you lose excess weight that may be contributing to your hemorrhoids.
  • Avoid long periods of sitting. Sitting too long, particularly on the toilet, can increase the pressure on the veins in the anus.

What to do if my hemorrhoids don't heal on their own

If prevention methods aren't successful and you are still having problems with large hemorrhoids, we may recommend a surgical procedure. Your surgery may be done as an outpatient or rarely may require an overnight hospital stay.

With hemorrhoid removal, also called hemorrhoidectomy, we remove excessive tissue that causes bleeding. Various techniques may be used, and the surgery may be done with a local anesthetic combined with sedation, a spinal anesthetic, or general anesthetic.

Hemorrhoidectomy is the most effective and complete way to treat severe or recurring hemorrhoids. Complications may include temporary difficulty emptying your bladder and occasional persistent bleeding. Most people do experience some temporary pain after the procedure, but we can prescribe medications that will help alleviate the symptoms.

Hemorrhoids aren't forever

Most patients that do end up requiring operative intervention tell us they are happy they had the procedure done, and many say that they wish they had done it sooner!

Sometimes it feels like your hemorrhoids just won't go away. Some people live with hemorrhoids for months, or even years. But you don't have to go through that. The doctors here at the Alabama Colon & Rectal Institute are ready to diagnose and treat internal and external hemorrhoids.

We know it feels awkward for you, but we promise it is not awkward for us. Don't live with hemorrhoids forever! Contact us today!

Alabama Colon & Rectal Institute is centered around treating diseases of the colon, rectum, and anus.

Alabama Colon & Rectal Institute (also known as the “Butt Hutt” around town!) has been in practice since 1990 as a free standing, private practice located in downtown Birmingham, Alabama.  We are known for our efficiency and patient care, in a more relaxed office-based setting.  Our doctors are known regionally for their expertise and are active in teaching surgical residents and other physicians.  We are also a major sponsor of The Rumpshaker 5K, a race that promotes awareness about colorectal cancer.  Check out our website for more information, or give us a call to make an appointment at (205) 458-5000, or email us at [email protected].