Hemorrhoids are much more common than most people may realize and they become even more common as we age. I’ve heard some estimates that say that over 50% of people in the US will get hemorrhoids at some point in their life. Although hemorrhoids aren’t usually a serious condition, there are valid reasons why you still need to consult with a doctor about any symptoms you may be experiencing. Because hemorrhoids are embarrassing for a lot of people, they are tempted to skip talking with a doctor and just treat their symptoms themselves, but this is a mistake that can have potentially deadly consequences.
The usual symptoms of hemorrhoids are bleeding during bowel movements, swelling around the anal opening, pain, and itching. These symptoms are most common with external hemorrhoids or those hemorrhoids that are located directly outside the anal opening. With internally located hemorrhoids, the only symptom may be bleeding as there are no pain receptors inside the anal cavity, so typically this type of hemorrhoid has no pain or discomfort associated with it.
The problem with avoiding doctors and self diagnosing any condition including something as innocuous as hemorrhoids is that you may not realize that typical hemorrhoid symptoms can also indicate much more serious medical conditions. Not to cause you concern, but in order to educate, you should be aware that pain, swelling and anal bleeding can also indicate colon cancer, polyps, infections, and fissures. This is especially true of anal bleeding. All incidences of anal bleeding need to be immediately discussed with a doctor. While it’s true that hemorrhoids are the most likely cause of your symptoms, do not skip getting a correct medical diagnoses because of laziness or embarrassment.
Colon cancer is treatable and survivable if caught and treated in its early stages. The most likely exam your doctor will use to diagnose your hemorrhoids is a colonoscopy. This is used diagnostically for all conditions in the colon region including hemorrhoids and colon cancer. It’s a small bendable scope which allows your doctor to get a good view of your overall colon/rectal health. It’s not as bad as it sounds and most people actually find the preparation leading up to the exam to be much more unpleasant. The preparation part involves heavy duty laxatives and a day spent close to a bathroom.
Another reason to avoid self diagnosing is to avoid complications. Although this is far less serious than colon cancer, hemorrhoid conditions if left untreated can become worse, perhaps to the point of even requiring surgery. Now, most people suffering from hemorrhoids will never require surgery but even “simple” cases of hemorrhoids require lifestyle changes and treatment to make sure they don’t become worse. For example, left untreated an internal hemorrhoid can become so inflamed that it extends outside the anal canal. Sometimes they can be manually reinserted, but sometimes, the anal muscles can contract so that the hemorrhoid gets trapped outside the anal canal. These two types of conditions are called a prolapsed hemorrhoid and a strangulated hemorrhoid, each of these is potentially more painful and serious than an internal hemorrhoids.