Hemorrhoids happen. Whether you’re a pregnant woman or a middle-aged man, hemorrhoids are an equal-opportunity offender. You have them, but you might not know it.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, around one in 20 Americans may experience symptoms of hemorrhoids, while others may not feel a thing. The risk increases with age as people become less active.
If you’ve ever felt hemorrhoids, you know they can be a real pain in the you-know-what.
The two types
Hemorrhoids are defined as enlarged vascular tissue found in the lower rectum and anus, the opening at the end of the large intestine through which stools leave the body. There are two types of hemorrhoids: internal and external.
Michael Waters, MD, a board-certified family physician with Baptist Primary Care, explained an internal hemorrhoid usually won’t cause pain unless it swells and bulges outward from the anus. This occurs when the tissue holding it in place weakens. While mostly painless, internal hemorrhoids can cause varying amounts of rectal bleeding and blood in the stool, Dr. Waters added.
But blood in the stool isn’t always due to hemorrhoids, and it should always be evaluated to rule out more serious medical conditions.
External hemorrhoids, which form directly on the anus and appear as red lumps, tend to be more painful, especially when sitting or during a bowel movement.
“They are basically dilated veins everyone has and are a normal part of the body that helps to control bowel movements,” said Dr. Waters. “But when they are swollen, they can cause pain, itching and bleeding.”
Hemorrhoids are often the result of a sudden increase in pressure in the blood vessels around the rectum, either from too much straining during a bowel movement or from constipation.
“Some people may have a family history of hemorrhoids, but your likelihood of getting hemorrhoids mostly comes down to what you’re doing all day,” Dr. Waters said. “For instance, people who lift heavy weights or ride bicycles a lot can develop hemorrhoids. Having a sedentary lifestyle can also put a person at a higher risk for hemorrhoids.”
Most people don’t need surgery and can treat hemorrhoids with over-the-counter creams or medicated pads, said Dr. Waters.
“Eating a healthy diet, staying active and drinking plenty of water all help reduce the chances of getting hemorrhoids,” he added.
It’s important to try not to delay bowel movements, because stools sitting in the colon can dry and harden, making them harder to pass. Staying regular is a sign of good health and a healthy digestive system.
Ways to stay regular and keep hemorrhoids away include:
- Eating more fiber (one medium banana a day) to help prevent constipation
- Exercising at least 30 minutes a day to help stimulate the bowels
- Keeping hydrated to help stools stay soft
If you’re experiencing constipation more than three times a week, or notice blood in your stool, make an appointment with a Baptist Primary Care physician near you by calling 904.202.4YOU.