Hemorrhoids are clumps of dilated (enlarged) blood vessels in the anus and lower rectum.
The rectum is the last area of the large intestine before it exits to the anus. The anus is the end of the digestive tract where feces leaves the body.
Most individuals who have hemorrhoids discover them by either
- feeling the lump of an external hemorrhoid when they wipe themselves after a bowel movement,
- noting drops of blood in the toilet bowl or on the toilet paper, or
- feeling a prolapsing hemorrhoid (protruding from the anus) after bowel movements.
With a history of symptoms, a physician can begin diagnosis on the basis of a careful examination of the anus and anal area. Although the physician should try his or her best to identify the hemorrhoids, it is perhaps more important to exclude other causes of hemorrhoid-like symptoms that require different treatment such as
- anal fissures,
- bowel disorders like ulcerative colitis,
- blood coagulation disorders,
- perianal (around the anus) skin diseases,
- infections, and
Seeing a Doctor About Hemorrhoids
Many people are embarrassed to go to their doctor about their hemorrhoid problems, which is probably why only an estimated 4% of people see the doctor even if 75% of us experience enlarged hemorrhoids at some point in time. Despite the embarrassment, hemorrhoids should always be examined professionally.
Getting a medical exam will help your doctor recommend an effective treatment, and will also help to rule out more serious causes for your symptoms.When you visit your doctor, you will probably be asked to describe your symptoms. The doctor will perform an examination to see whether your anus is inflamed, and whether enlarged hemorrhoids are present.
The doctor will want to know if you have found blood in your stool, which may prompt a bowel endoscopy examination. The doctor will likely feel for anything unusual through a digital rectal examination.
Remember that while this might be a little embarrassing and uncomfortable, hemorrhoid exams are usually painless. Also, your doctor is accustomed to caring for this sort of problem, which is very common.
If you seem to have enlarged hemorrhoids, the doctor will probably recommend a proctoscopy. During a proctoscopy, a short tube with light and a lens will be used to examine the membranes lining your rectum. This will let your doctor see the enlarged hemorrhoids and determine their size. Again, this procedure is usually painless.