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A hemorrhoid is a condition in which blood vessels around the anus or lower rectum become inflamed and painful. Symptoms include itching, swelling, and, if severe enough, bleeding. According to the National Institutes of Health,¹ hemorrhoids affect around 1 in 20 Americans. Half of the adults over 50 also experience some form of swollen hemorrhoids, raising fears about whether hemorrhoids are deadly.
The pain of hemorrhoids can be so severe that it compels people to ask, "Are hemorrhoids fatal?" No, hemorrhoids are not deadly. While the pain and discomfort can be excruciating, hemorrhoids can not kill you, even when severe.
Hemorrhoids occur in two locations:
Internal hemorrhoids — Inflammation occurring in blood vessels in the inner lining of the anus or rectum
External hemorrhoids — Inflamed blood vessels just under the exterior skin of the anus
Even though hemorrhoids are not deadly, they can still lead to further complications if preventive care is not taken.
At their lowest level, hemorrhoids cause varying pain levels, especially during bowel movements. If care is not taken and the blood vessels become more inflamed and swollen, the risk of other complications arises.
If continually irritated, the tender and swollen tissues can start bleeding, but it is usually mild. The blood vessels could also become so irritated that they burst, even without rough external treatment. Heavy exertion or straining increases the chance of bursting the tender and vulnerable blood vessels.
In extreme cases, hemorrhoids can also become "thrombosed," which means a blood clot has formed in the inflamed blood vessels. A thrombosed hemorrhoid is more severe, creating discomfort even when walking, stretching, or sitting.
Regardless of the increased pain of a blood clot, even thrombosed hemorrhoids can not kill you. You should, however, take greater caution and try any home remedies you can (explained below).
If internal hemorrhoid becomes very swollen or endures excessive strain, it can emerge from the anus. This could result in the prolapsed hemorrhoid becoming strangulated, where the muscles of the anus tighten around it and restrict blood flow. In this case, particularly, it's important to reduce the swelling.
Even if a hemorrhoid is so swollen that it pops, you are unlikely to die from bleeding hemorrhoid. However, a wound in or around the anus can easily become infected, and if not allowed to heal, the tissue takes much longer to heal.
This could increase the need for surgery, which may introduce its own complications, such as scarring in the rectum. Even if the pain is unbearable, deliberately popping hemorrhoids will only prolong the inflammation cycle. See instead the treatment options below.
Here are some actions you can take to limit the painful symptoms of hemorrhoids and keep them from worsening. Remember that hemorrhoids are not fatal but are extremely debilitating, especially if left untreated.
Avoid as much unnecessary strain and pressure in your lower body as possible, especially taking precautions to not strain when sitting on the toilet. According to a 2021 hemorrhoids study² on the National Institutes of Health website, symptoms can be significantly relieved by squatting during defecation rather than sitting.
Reducing the swelling is very important, especially with prolapsed hemorrhoids. Many report success taking a sitz bath, which is a warm, shallow bath using just enough water to cover the area around the anus. Be sure the bathtub is clean, and exercise caution with any solvent, oil, or salt.
While Epsom salt may be incredibly soothing, it could cause intense burning if you've experienced any broken skin. If you see bleeding, assume this is the case. Use only a small amount of any bath salt or oil, and test it before using more.
Some sitz bath devices involve using a small plastic tub that fits over a toilet seat – but in light of the previously mentioned study, a bathtub promotes a better posture than sitting on a toilet.
When resting, lie down instead of sitting whenever possible. Wear loose clothing, and take smaller movements when you decide to move. Pay close attention to your digestive health, particularly in ways that affect the quality of your stool.
Because hemorrhoids cause painful bowel movements, softer stool can tremendously help reduce the pain of hemorrhoids. The following nutritional and dietary modifications will help loosen your stool enough to reduce pain when going to the bathroom:
While it may seem good to approach the issue as you would with constipation, be careful not to go too far in promoting bowel movements. Your goal should be to loosen your stool, not to make yourself need to go to the bathroom frequently, which would be counterproductive to reducing the strain on your bowels over the course of the day.
Too much magnesium, caster oil, mineral oil, and other substances could easily increase the number of unnecessary bathroom breaks – and even so much as sitting on the toilet can be a strain. Only take what's needed to soften your stool.
Therapeutic treatments at the site of external hemorrhoids can help relieve swelling, especially soothing wipes. Not only does this provide immediate relief from the pain and itching, but it can also reduce swelling. Ensure wipes or topical solvents do not contain irritants, such as chemicals, alcohol, or perfumes, because they can easily aggravate the already sensitive tissues.
Wipes or liquids containing witch hazel are great for reducing inflammation, itching, and pain. Aloe vera gel is another soothing topical treatment. When taken internally, research³ shows that aloe may also help treat ulcers, colitis, and IBS, which share some of the symptoms of hemorrhoids, as we'll explain next.
Seeing blood in your bowel movements is never normal. You should visit your doctor to investigate the underlying cause. If the amount of bleeding progressively increases, consider it a clear sign to see your trusted medical provider.
Most hemorrhoids disappear on their own in about one week. If it persists longer – and especially if it progressively worsens – it's important to rule out other possibilities. What may seem like hemorrhoid symptoms could indicate other issues, some of which are more serious. These include:
Colitis, or inflammation of the large intestine
Polyps (small growths) in the colon
Peptic ulcers, such as in the small intestines
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), which can cause chronic inflammation of the digestive tract
While many have wondered if hemorrhoids can kill you or if particularly severe hemorrhoids are deadly in any way, the answer is a resounding no. That may come as little consolation to those experiencing a particularly painful bout of this condition – but even popping hemorrhoids can't kill you.
Thrombosed hemorrhoids are more concerning, as are any medical issues involving blood clots, but these also are unlikely to do more than increase the swelling. An internal prolapsed hemorrhoid could present further complications, such as cutting off blood flow to the tissue.
Nevertheless, your best option for minor and severe hemorrhoid cases is to gently limit irritation to the area and reduce swelling as consistently as possible.
If the condition persists longer than a week, worsens, or leads to increased bleeding, it's time to consider other causes besides hemorrhoids. Whether you are worried about the possibility of other conditions or just need help reducing the painful symptoms, visit a doctor if you see blood in your stool.
Definition & facts of hemorrhoids | NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
Aloe vera | NIH: National Center of Complementary and Integrative Health
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