What Are Hemorrhoids? - Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

What is a hemorrhoid? How does it develop? Read this lesson to learn about what a hemorrhoid is, what the symptoms are, what causes them, and how to treat them if they rear their ugly heads!

What Are Hemorrhoids?

Hemorrhoids are literally a pain in the butt! They develop when veins around the anus and lower rectum (the last portion of the large intestine) become inflamed and swollen (ouch!). Hemorrhoids may also be called piles, and they may be internal, inside the body in the rectum, or external, on the skin in the area around the anus. Unfortunately, hemorrhoids are fairly common in people over fifty, with about half of the population reporting symptoms. The good news is there are plenty of treatment options for those who suffer from this condition.

A picture of both internal (yellow) and external (blue) hemorrhoids
internal and external hemorrhoids

Causes of Hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids are usually caused by strain on the area. This could be due to the following:

  • Difficult bowel movements causing straining
  • Sitting on the toilet for extended periods of time
  • Chronic digestive issues like constipation or diarrhea
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Sexual activity including anal intercourse
  • A low-fiber diet (resulting in difficult bowel movements)

These activities limit blood flow around the anal region, causing the blood to pool and the vessels to swell. Pregnant women may suffer from hemorrhoids because of the extra pressure the fetus places on the body. Because blood vessels can stretch over time, older individuals are more likely to suffer from hemorrhoids when blood pools in the veins.

Hemorrhoid Symptoms

Internal hemorrhoids may be painless or even symptomless. However, when symptoms do occur (in both external and internal hemorrhoids), they may include pain, bleeding, itching, or irritation of the anal region. Other symptoms include swelling, trouble controlling bowel movements, and palpable lumps around the anus. Sometimes straining causes an internal hemorrhoid to be pushed outside of the body, and this is called a protruding or prolapsed hemorrhoid. Severe external hemorrhoids may causes a great deal of blood to pool and result in a blot clot (thrombus) that causes intense pain, swelling, or irritation.

Treatment Options

So what is one to do if one suffers from hemorrhoids? There are a number of over-the-counter options, including creams, ointments, pads, and other medication. In more serious cases, a doctor may need to complete a minor surgery to rectify the situation. This option may include an incision to drain the hemorrhoid, a rubber band ligation, which cuts off circulation to the inflamed vessel, a chemical injection to shrink the hemorrhoid, or a laser or infrared treatment. More serious surgical options include complete removal of the hemorrhoid or even stapling to block blood flow to the area.

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