Hemorrhoids (Piles) (cont.)
Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
In this Article
- What is the definition of a hemorrhoid?
- What causes hemorrhoids?
- What are the signs and symptoms of a hemorrhoid?
- What does a hemorrhoid look like?
- How is the diagnosis of hemorrhoids made?
- How are hemorrhoids treated?
- OTC medications and home remedies for hemorrhoids
- Non-surgical approaches
- Hemorrhoid surgery
- What is the prognosis for hemorrhoids?
- Hemorrhoids (Piles) FAQs
- Find a local Gastroenterologist in your town
What does a hemorrhoid look like?
Normal hemorrhoidal tissue cannot be seen since they must first swell and become inflamed or develop a clot to cause symptoms. One can see swollen external hemorrhoids or prolapsed internal hemorrhoids exposed outside the anus but internal hemorrhoids cannot be seen because they remain inside the anus. A thrombosed hemorrhoid will appear as a lump at the anal verge, protruding from the anus and will be dark bluish in color because of the blood clot contained inside the swollen blood vessel. A non-thrombosed hemorrhoid will appear as a rubbery lump. Often more than one swollen hemorrhoid appears at the same time.
How is the diagnosis of hemorrhoids made?
The common symptoms of a hemorrhoid include itching, pain, rectal fullness or lump, and bleeding. The diagnosis is made by history taking and physical examination. The history may focus on the associated symptoms including constipation, hard bowel movements, and straining while going to the toilet. Other questions may be asked to look for other causes of rectal bleeding including tumors, inflammatory bowel disease, and gastrointestinal bleeding.
Physical examination is performed to confirm the diagnosis and includes a rectal examination where a finger is used to feel for abnormal lumps or masses. Interestingly, internal hemorrhoids cannot usually be felt. The rectal exam may be deferred if there is intense pain or swelling. In addition, hemorrhoids and constipation may be associated with anal fissures or cracks in the skin surrounding the anus. The associated pain and spasm makes a rectal exam very uncomfortable.
If the health care professional is concerned that the symptoms, especially rectal bleeding, cannot be explained by hemorrhoids, anoscopy may be considered. Anoscopy is an office procedure where a lighted tube is inserted to look at the anus. Sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy may be ordered if there is concern that the bleeding is arising from other areas of the colon. These procedures are usually performed by a gastroenterologist or surgeon.
Depending upon the situation, blood tests may be ordered. If there has been excessive bleeding, the hemoglobin or red blood cell count may be checked. If the patient is taking warfarin (Coumadin), an INR (international normalized ratio) or PT (protime) may be ordered to check for appropriate blood "thinning". Please note that there are many newer anticoagulation medications available to "thin" the blood and their activity cannot be measured by routine blood tests.
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