What Are Hemorrhoids and Why Do They Hurt So Much?

By: Helena Potter

Almost everyone knows that hemorrhoids are painful and embarrassing, but a surprisingly small number of people actually know much about them. This uncomfortable problem can even go for long periods without treatment because patients don't understand what is happening to their bodies. While treating hemorrhoids is actually fairly simple, deciding to go to the doctor can be a much more difficult situation. The process gets easier if you know more about your body and how hemorrhoids affect it, however. Here's a look at what hemorrhoids are, how they develop and what can be done to make them easier to deal with.

What Is a Hemorrhoid?

Hemorrhoids are also known as piles, and take the form of small growths or bumps in the anus and the lower part of the rectum. Though they may seem like polyps or other extra tissue, they're actually a normal part of the body. A hemorrhoid is actually a vein that helps with elimination. When you become constipated and strain to complete a bowel movement or when a pregnancy puts more pressure on these veins, they can become inflamed and painful or itchy. This pressure causes the hemorrhoid to swell up significantly. It can even begin to bleed, producing bright red marks on toilet paper or in toilet bowl water.

Some hemorrhoids are internal, and develop inside the rectum. Others develop under the skin just around the anus and are considered external hemorrhoids. About half of people will have to deal with these unpleasant inflamed veins by the time they reach the age of 50, and many people don't understand that developing hemorrhoids is actually quite normal. Fortunately, there are many different ways to treat both the symptoms of hemorrhoids and the inflammation itself.

Common Piles Symptoms

Many people who have hemorrhoids don't even know that they have them. One of the most common signs that someone is suffering from this condition is painless bleeding when they have a bowel movement. The bright red blood in the toilet bowel or on the tissue may seem alarming, but it doesn't actually indicate a problem. You might also have irritation or itching around your anus. In many people, this discomfort eventually becomes painful.

In people with external hemorrhoids, a swelling may appear around the anus. This can also be surprising and alarming to people who don't know what it is. These lumps may be mistaken for tumors, abscesses or other problems. If the lump interferes with the natural muscles around this area, it may cause waste to accidentally leak out of the rectum, which can be embarrassing. In some cases, external hemorrhoids may be pushed out of the body during a bowel movement, causing what is called a prolapsed hemorrhoid. These are especially likely to become painful. If you suffer from any of these problems, it's a good idea to see a doctor for help.

Complications of Hemorrhoids

Some people with piles symptoms eventually develop more serious problems if their hemorrhoids go untreated. These aren't very common, but can include anemia from internal hemorrhoids that bleed heavily, as well as strangulation. Strangulated hemorrhoids occur when an internal hemorrhoid loses its blood supply, leading to severe pain and eventually gangrene. It's important to have a strangulated hemorrhoid treated at once.


The process of diagnosing hemorrhoids is usually fairly straightforward. The doctor will examine the affected area and may use a gloved hand to gently check for swelling and other unusual changes in the body. In some cases, a lighted scope may be used to perform a visual examination. People who have piles symptoms and are over the age of 50 may also have some other tests performed to eliminate the risk of problems like rectal or colon cancer.

Hemorrhoids Treatment

While hemorrhoids can be upsetting and confusing for many people, treating them is actually fairly straightforward. Doctors have many different options to help patients feel better. Some hemorrhoid treatments include over the counter medications to relieve pain and itching, as well as removal of the hemorrhoid. Doctors may choose to relieve piles symptoms by giving you a suppository, pad or ointment if you suffer from mild discomfort only. If your hemorrhoids cause more significant problems, they may use a rubber band, chemical injection or laser technique to cause the hemorrhoid to fall off. In more serious cases, the hemorrhoid may be surgically removed or stapled.

Natural and home remedies for hemorrhoids are also available. For instance, some people apply witch hazel to the problem area to relieve discomfort. Other people choose to soak in a warm bath for 10 to 15 minutes two to three times every day. Using moist towelettes instead of dry toilet paper can help in some situations. In some cases, cold compresses and ice packs can help relieve the swelling. These remedies work best for relatively mild hemorrhoids, but they can be a big help for people who can't get to a doctor right away.

Preventing Hemorrhoids

People who don't yet suffer from the discomfort of hemorrhoids have some options to decrease the risk of this problem developing in the future. It's important to eat a diet high in fiber that will reduce the risk of constipation. It's also a good idea to avoid straining during a bowel movement. Increased pressure on the veins raises the risk of irritation later on. You should also avoid sitting on the toilet for long periods of time.

To keep yourself from getting hemorrhoids, make sure you drink plenty of fluids and use the restroom as soon as you feel the urge to have a bowel movement. “Holding it” can result in greater problems later on. Regular exercise and moving around at work can also be a big help. Long periods of sitting or standing can result in pressure problems that lead to irritation later on.

Risk Factors

People who suffer from chronic constipation or diarrhea associated with illness or intestinal disorders are at a higher risk for hemorrhoids, as are obese people, who may have trouble with normal bowel movements. Pregnancy greatly increases the risk of this problem, since the changes that occur while carrying a baby put a lot of pressure on the lower intestines. People who engage in anal intercourse are also somewhat more likely to have hemorrhoids than people who don't, due to the increased potential for irritation. Your chances of suffering from this problem increase if anyone in your family has had hemorrhoids. They also go up as you age, since the tissues responsible for supporting the veins become weaker over time.

Hemorrhoids can be upsetting and distressing, especially if you allow them to go untreated. They are very common, however, and are often considered a normal part of aging. If you suffer from itching, bleeding or other signs of irritated veins, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor right away. He or she can help you find the right remedy for your situation and symptoms. You could feel a lot better in just a short time. Don't wait and allow your hemorrhoids to become more uncomfortable or produce unpleasant side effects. Deal with the problem as soon as you think you might have it.

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Helena is the editor at a Hemocyl website. You can see a detailed list of piles symptoms included in Helena's most recent Hemocyl Review.

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