Dr. Melvin Lau Helps Your Decipher Your Symptoms And Choose The Right Treatment Options
They may be embarrassing to talk about, but 10 to 25 percent of the adult U.S. population will suffer from the irritating symptoms related to hemorrhoids at some point in his or her lifetime.
Scott & White gastroenterologist, Melvin Lau, MD, explains what hemorrhoids are and what to do if you suspect you have them.
“Hemorrhoids are normal blood vessels inside and outside of the anal canal. They are a problem when they become swollen and painful,” Dr. Lau said. “The exact cause of symptomatic hemorrhoids is not clear, but the correlation with constipation and straining during a bowel movement is very strong.”
So, how do you know if you have them?
Dr. Lau said there are three main symptoms: itching, bleeding and pain before, after or during a bowel movement.
If you have these symptoms and are wondering whether or not you have hemorrhoids, most family medicine doctors can examine the area and see if there are any external hemorrhoids.
“The internal ones require some sort of instrumentation, either an anal scope, which they can do in the clinic, or during a colonoscopy,” he said.
The good news for hemorrhoid sufferers is that 80 to 90 percent of hemorrhoid cases can be treated conservatively with these steps:
- Increase fiber intake to 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day, through high fiber foods or a supplement.
- Avoid straining when having a bowel movement.
- Increase water intake to six to eight glasses a day.
“Most people don’t drink enough water,” Dr. Lau said. “If the mouth is thirsty, then the anus is also dry.”
Gastroenterologists like Dr. Lau can also teach patients better bowel movement techniques to decrease pressure on the anal veins.
“We tell them not to sit there and read the magazine or the newspaper,” he said. “It also helps to wipe gently and if you have the urge, go. Don’t wait a long time.”
The doctor said Sitz baths, which are warm or lukewarm baths, can also help relieve symptomatic hemorrhoids.
But not all over-the-counter remedies are helpful. Dr. Lau warns against overusing hemorrhoid creams.
“Some of those creams contain steroids, which can dry out the anus and can even cause more itching,” he said.
And if the home treatments aren’t relieving your symptoms, it may be time to seek medical attention.
“For the internal hemorrhoids, you don’t have pain fibers, so we can do something called band ligation, which decreases the size of the surface area of the hemorrhoids,” Dr. Lau said.
But if they are painful, external hemorrhoids, then having them surgically removed may be your best option.
For most patients, these procedures won’t be necessary. But Dr. Lau said if you are having hemorrhoid symptoms, especially rectal bleeding, it is best to consult with your doctor.
“Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer in the United States, and sometimes hemorrhoid bleeding can mimic other, dangerous diseases,” he said.
If you are over age 50 and having rectal bleeding, the gastroenterologist strongly recommends having a colonoscopy to make sure nothing else is going on.
For more information about hemorrhoids and other conditions, visit the Scott & White health library or make an appointment with your primary care physician.