What are hemorrhoids?

Hemorrhoids (also called piles) are inflamed, swollen blood vessels located in and around the anus and lower rectum.  These vessels can stretch under pressure, like varicose veins in the legs.  Hemorrhoids are either inside the anus (internal) or under the skin around the anus (external).  About 50% of the adult population of the United States, both men and women, have hemorrhoids.

What causes hemorrhoids?

Causes include increased pressure and swelling from straining to move the bowel and conditions such as pregnancy and chronic constipation or diarrhea.  Heredity and aging are other factors.

What are the symptoms of hemorrhoids?

Many people have hemorrhoids but not all have symptoms.  Pain or tenderness can occur during bowel movements.  The most common symptom of internal hemorrhoids is bright red blood covering stools (bowel movements), on toilet paper, or in the toilet bowl.  Internal hemorrhoids may poke through to outside the body and become irritated and painful. These are protruding hemorrhoids.  Symptoms of external hemorrhoids include painful swelling or hard lump near the anus.  Straining, rubbing or cleaning around the anus may cause irritation with bleeding and itching.  Draining mucous may cause itching.

How are hemorrhoids diagnosed?

The doctor may suspect hemorrhoids from the symptoms and make a diagnosis by doing a physical examination.  Hemorrhoids can be painless, and the doctor may find them on routine physical examination.