Though uncomfortable, hemorrhoids are common conditions and are rarely life-threatening or dangerous. Still, having hemorrhoids can affect your day-to-day life, making tasks like sitting, moving, or going to the bathroom particularly painful or difficult.
Most cases of hemorrhoids clear up on their own within a few days. But if you notice blood in your stool or experience pain that lasts longer than a week, it’s important to reach out to your healthcare provider for guidance.
When to See a Doctor for Hemorrhoids
In most cases, hemorrhoids can be treated at home by drinking water, eating foods that are high in fiber, and taking a stool softener. But if you have any of the below, you should reach out to your provider for care:
- Symptoms that persist after one week of at-home treatment
- Bleeding from your rectum
- Intense pain in the anus
What are Hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids, also referred to as piles, are swollen and inflamed veins around your anus and in your lower rectum. When the blood flow through these veins becomes disrupted, it can cause blood to pool and the area to swell, forming small lumps known as hemorrhoids.
Anyone can get hemorrhoids, but they’re most common in:
- Adults aged 50 and older
- Pregnant people
- People who strain during bowel movements
- People who sit on the toilet for extended periods of time
- People with chronic constipation or diarrhea
- People who regularly lift heavy objects
Types of hemorrhoids
There are two types of hemorrhoids:
- External hemorrhoids: Swollen and inflamed veins that form under the skin around the anus.
- Internal hemorrhoids: Swollen and inflamed veins that form in the lining of the anus and lower rectum.
The symptoms of hemorrhoids can vary depending on what type of hemorrhoids you have.
Common symptoms of external hemorrhoids include:
- Anal itching
- Hard, tender lumps around the anus
- Anal ache or pain, particularly when sitting
- Symptoms that get worse when straining, rubbing, or cleaning the area
Common symptoms of internal hemorrhoids include:
- Rectal bleeding (bright red blood that appears on toilet paper, in stool, or in the toilet bowl)
- Prolapse – a hemorrhoid that has fallen through the anal opening (these are usually not painful)
Medical Treatment for Hemorrhoids
If at-home treatment fails to improve your symptoms within one week, you should reach out to your provider. Depending on the state of your hemorrhoids, your provider may recommend an in-office or outpatient treatment, including:
- Rubber band ligation: This is an in-office procedure used to treat bleeding or prolapsing internal hemorrhoids. Rubber band ligation works to cut off blood supply to the hemorrhoid, causing it to shrivel and fall off, usually within one week.
- Sclerotherapy: An injection performed in-office used to cut off blood supply to internal hemorrhoids, which also causes them to shrink eventually.
- Infrared photocoagulation: An in-office procedure in which a provider uses infrared light directed at an internal hemorrhoid. The infrared light cuts off blood supply, shrinking the hemorrhoid.
- Electrocoagulation: An in-office procedure in which a provider sends an electric current into an internal hemorrhoid which causes scar tissue to form, cuts off blood supply, and ultimately shrinks the hemorrhoid.
- Hemorrhoidectomy: An outpatient procedure used to remove large external hemorrhoids and prolapsing internal hemorrhoids that do not respond to other treatments.
- Hemorrhoid stapling: An outpatient surgery in which a stapling tool is used to remove internal hemorrhoid tissue and pull a prolapsing internal hemorrhoid back into the anus.
At-Home Treatment for Hemorrhoids
There are many ways to treat your hemorrhoids at home. Diet and lifestyle play important role in hemorrhoid management.
At-home hemorrhoid treatment strategies include:
- Eating a diet high in fiber
- Taking an over-the-counter (OTC) stool softener
- Drinking plenty of water and non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated beverages
- Practice not straining during bowel movements
- Avoid sitting on the toilet for long periods of time
- Taking OTC pain relievers, like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin
- Taking a sitz bath several times a day to relieve pain (sit in a tub of warm water)
- Taking OTC hemorrhoid creams, ointments, or suppositories (if symptoms don’t improve within one week, reach out to your healthcare provider)
To try to prevent hemorrhoids from forming, you can:
- Eat a high-fiber diet
- Drink plenty of water and non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated beverages
- Don’t strain during bowel movements
- Don’t sit on the toilet for long periods of time
- Avoid heavy lifting
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