Hemorrhoids are fairly common, especially among people ages 45 to 75. And most hemorrhoid symptoms, such as mild itching or mild pain, can usually be treated at home with over-the-counter remedies.
But there are times when a trip to the doctor is warranted — and many people do seek medical help, whether for more specific medication or, in some cases, simple hemorrhoid surgery. According to the latest statistics for digestive diseases from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), 1.1 million people received outpatient care for hemorrhoids in 2009, and 266,000 people were hospitalized for treatment in 2010. While severe complications of hemorrhoids are quite rare, it’s important to know when to see your doctor.
“Anytime you have bleeding, feel a lump in the anus, or have rectal pain, you should see a doctor to make sure you don’t have a more serious cause of the symptoms,” says Aline J. Charabaty-Pishvaian, MD, associate professor of medicine and director of the center for inflammatory bowel disease at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, DC.
Even a less serious situation can prompt a call to your doctor. If you’ve been trying to treat hemorrhoids on your own, for instance, yet the hemorrhoid symptoms linger, a doctor visit makes sense.
“If you have already been diagnosed with hemorrhoids and your symptoms are not improving with fiber supplements, an increase in water intake, over-the-counter pain relievers, or a warm bath, then schedule an appointment,” Dr. Charabaty-Pishvaian says.
In most cases, you can see a general practitioner or your family physician about your hemorrhoid symptoms. If complications arise, you may be referred to a specialist, such as a gastroenterologist or a proctologist.
Different Types of Hemorrhoids
There are two types of hemorrhoids: external and internal. External hemorrhoids arise from the anal canal, while internal hemorrhoids arise from the rectum, immediately above the anal canal. According to Cuckoo Choudhary, MD, associate professor of gastroenterology at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, one type is not worse than the other, but both can cause problems. “It all depends on the size and degree of the hemorrhoid,” Dr. Choudhary says. “Untreated internal hemorrhoids can cause bleeding. External hemorrhoids can cause thrombosis [blood clotting], which gives way to severe pain from hemorrhoidal strangulation.”
If you know you have hemorrhoids and you have acute and severe anal pain, it could be a sign of thrombosed hemorrhoids.
Know When to See Your Doctor
Though the annoyance of hemorrhoids can be reason enough to call your doctor, use this checklist to know when a visit is a must:
- If you’re experiencing any type of rectal bleeding
- If the hemorrhoids are causing you pain or discomfort
- If the problems persist despite trying over-the-counter hemorrhoid creams or other remedies
- If you’re passing stools that look maroon in color or tarry in color, a sign of bleeding
If you experience a large amount of rectal bleeding that is accompanied by dizziness or faintness, be sure to seek emergency medical care immediately.
Though hemorrhoids are thought of as a minor health problem, you shouldn’t let that notion keep you from getting them examined. The ultimate goal is hemorrhoid relief, and for many people, that means an office visit.
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