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March 20, 2018  |  Login
by James F. Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.D.

It is estimated that 50 to 75 percent of Americans will suffer from hemorrhoids at least once, and nearly one-third of the population has an ongoing problem with this often-painful condition. Hemorrhoids are usually caused by increased pressure on the veins of the anus and the rectum. This pressure inflames and swells the veins, much in the same way that pressure on the veins of the legs creates varicose veins. Increased pressure on the anal veins can occur for many reasons but is most commonly the result of constipation, especially straining to pass stools, and pregnancy and childbirth. There may also be a genetic component to this disorder.

Hemorrhoids can be divided into three categories. Internal hemorrhoids develop inside the rectum, where they cannot be seen. Because they are usually painless, you may not even be aware of them unless they bleed. External hemorrhoids are located at the lower end of the anal canal, at the opening of the anus and under the skin. They are likely to become inflamed; when they do, they turn blue or purple and feel tender to the touch. Because of the high number of nerves in the anus, these hemorrhoids can be quite painful.

If an internal hemorrhoid becomes enlarged, it may collapse and descend so that it partially protrudes outside of the anus. These lumpy-looking masses of tissue are called prolapsed hemorrhoids. They usually appear after a bowel movement and produce both mucus and heavy bleeding. Prolapsed hemorrhoids can be excruciating painful.

Most cases of hemorrhoids are linked in some way to a lack of dietary fiber. They are best treated at home with increased fiber intake, detoxification, and soothing treatments for the pain and the itching. If your hemorrhoids don't improve with these conservative strategies, see a doctor about more aggressive treatments. In rare cases, surgery is required to remove large and very painful hemorrhoids. If you have any rectal bleeding at all, consult with a doctor so that he or she can rule out a more serious underlying condition.

Next: What are the Symptoms of Hemorrhoids

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