DEAR DR. GOTT: Should hemorrhoids be surgically removed? Can they cause anal cancer?
DEAR READER: Hemorrhoids are swollen and inflamed veins in and around the anus. While embarrassing for some people to discuss, they are extremely common and affect almost half of all adults over the age of 50. This is largely because the tissues that support the veins of the anus and rectum weaken and stretch with aging.
There are a number of reasons for a person to develop hemorrhoids. Obesity, straining during bowel movements, pregnancy, a family history and chronic diarrhea or constipation are a few of the more common causes.
Symptoms include bleeding during a bowel movement, itching or irritation of the anal area, a protrusion from the anus (with external hemorrhoids) and pain. As a general rule, internal hemorrhoids don’t cause discomfort and can’t be seen or felt.
Hemorrhoids can often be treated with lifestyle modifications. Try a sitz bath with a unit that fits over your toilet, or place a couple of inches of warm water in your bathtub and squat or sit in the tub two or three times each day until the swelling diminishes. Use an ice pack over the area to relieve swelling. Take acetaminophen or aspirin for pain relief. Topical hemorrhoid creams, hydrocortisone suppositories or pads that contain witch hazel are available over the counter and will provide relief of symptoms.
Once the hemorrhoids are under control, there are several preventive steps a person can take, such as drinking up to eight glasses of alcohol-free liquids daily, eating foods high in fiber, exercising, avoiding long periods of standing or sitting and incorporating fiber supplements into the daily diet. There are several over-the-counter products readily available for staying regular. The trick with these supplements is to drink eight glasses of water daily to prevent the supplements from causing constipation or making the condition, if it exists, worse. Speak with your pharmacist should any question remain with regard to which product might be best for you.
There are several procedures a physician can assist with in his or her office or through an outpatient setting, beginning with rubber-band ligation, clot removal through a simple incision, injection to shrink the hemorrhoid, or laser or infrared light or heat. When all else fails, hemorrhoidectomy is a surgical procedure that is extremely effective but carries possible complications. Pain, urinary-tract infections and difficulty emptying the bladder have been reported. Stapling blocks the flow of blood to hemorrhoidal tissue. The procedure is less painful than hemorrhoidectomy but has been associated with a greater risk of recurrence and rectal prolapse.
Speak with your physician regarding which options might be best for you.
While hemorrhoids are not generally associated with cancer, there are a number of reasons for rectal bleeding, including colorectal and anal tumors. Therefore, if any question remains, you should be examined by a professional.
To provide related information, I am sending you a copy of my Health Report “Constipation & Diarrhea.” Other readers who would like a copy should send a self-addressed stamped No. 10 envelope and $2 to Newsletter, P.O. Box 167, Wickliffe, OH 44092. Be sure to mention the title.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.