Hemorrhoids, also called piles, are vascular structures in the anal canal. In their normal state, they are cushions that help with stool control. They become a disease when swollen or inflamed; the unqualified term “hemorrhoid” is often used to refer to the disease. The signs and symptoms of hemorrhoids depend on the type present. Internal hemorrhoids often result in painless, bright red rectal bleeding when defecating. External hemorrhoids often result in pain and swelling in the area of the anus. If bleeding occurs it is usually darker. Symptoms frequently get better after a few days. A skin tag may remain after the healing of an external hemorrhoid.
While the exact cause of hemorrhoids remains unknown, a number of factors which increase pressure in the abdomen are believed to be involved. This may include constipation, diarrhea and sitting on the toilet for a long time. Hemorrhoids are also more common during pregnancy. Diagnosis is made by looking at the area. Many people incorrectly refer to any symptom occurring around the anal area as “hemorrhoids” and serious causes of the symptoms should be ruled out. Colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy is reasonable to confirm the diagnosis and rule out more serious causes.
Often, no specific treatment is needed. Initial measures consist of increasing fiber intake, drinking fluids to maintain hydration, NSAIDs to help with pain, and rest. Medicated creams may be applied to the area, but their effectiveness is poorly supported by evidence. A number of minor procedures may be performed if symptoms are severe or do not improve with conservative management. Surgery is reserved for those who fail to improve following these measures.