Your health: No need to be ashamed of hemorrhoids

Many times people come to me complaining of “hemorrhoids,” when in reality there is something — a fissure, a polyp, even a cancer — causing the symptoms. It’s important that people seek medical advice when these warning signs, such as bleeding or a change in bowel habits, develop. Colon and rectal cancers that are caught in the early stages are often curable with surgery.

Hemorrhoids are normal blood vessels within the anus or lower rectum that have become enlarged due to excess pressure. When these blood vessels stretch and become thin, they can bleed. If they go untreated, they can protrude out of the anus to cause irritation, bleeding and other complications.

Excessive anal vessel pressure can be caused by a variety of factors, including pregnancy, strenuous physical exertion, extra body weight and strain from sitting — whether it’s on the toilet or in a desk chair.

The good news is that most low-grade hemorrhoids can be treated with dietary changes and fiber supplements. Advanced-grade hemorrhoids, however, may require an outpatient procedure or surgical intervention.

There is a full spectrum of treatment options for hemorrhoids, from relatively painless outpatient procedures done to more complex surgical interventions.

Good outpatient treatments include:

Rubber band ligation: During this procedure, a rubber band is placed around a piece of the hemorrhoid, cutting off the blood flow. In about a week, the banded piece of hemorrhoid dies and shrinks in overall size. The technique is typically used for larger internal hemorrhoids that do not improve with dietary changes.

Infrared photocoagulation: This technique uses a pulsed beam of light to seal off the blood supply feeding the hemorrhoid. Over a period of time, the hemorrhoid tissue — which no longer has a blood supply — shrinks and dies. This procedure is most often used for small- to medium-sized hemorrhoids.

Both procedures are relatively painless.

Martha Ferguson, MD, is fellowship-trained in minimally invasive colorectal surgery. She sees patients at the UC Health Physicians Office, located at 7700 University Court, Suite 2300, in West Chester. For appointments, call (513) 929-0104.

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