What Is The Difference Between Hemorrhoids And Polyps? Diagnosis, Treatment, And Prevention

Hemorrhoids are swollen or inflamed veins that develop in the anus or lower rectum that can cause discomfort, pain, and itching. They can be caused by straining during bowel movements, pregnancy, or age. They may bleed occasionally, but they generally don't cause any permanent damage. 

There are several different types of hemorrhoids, and many people confuse them with other anal problems, like polyps. Colorectal polyps are growths that develop on the lining of the rectum or colon. Polyps often don’t cause any symptoms, but sometimes they can cause rectal bleeding, bowel movements with blood, a feeling of incomplete evacuation, nausea, or abdominal discomfort. 

Because the symptoms can be similar, people sometimes wonder how to tell the difference between hemorrhoids and polyps. This article will provide an overview of both conditions, as well as how to tell the difference between them.

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Causes of hemorrhoids and polyps

In general, hemorrhoids are caused by increased pressure in the veins around the rectum. This can be the result of several factors, including:

  • Pregnancy

  • Sitting for prolonged periods of time

  • Straining during bowel movements

  • Chronic constipation

  • Aging

  • Being significantly overweight

  • Frequently lifting heavy objects

Anyone can potentially experience colorectal polyps, but there are some groups who have a higher risk of developing polyps. The risk factors include:

  • Inflammatory conditions that affect the colon (such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)

  • A strong family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps

  • Smoking

  • Excessive alcohol use

  • Low levels of physical activity

  • An unhealthy diet (with few fruits and vegetables and a lot of red meat, especially processed meat)

  • Being significantly overweight

  • Aging

Diagnosis and testing for hemorrhoids and polyps

Both hemorrhoids and polyps can cause a small amount of bleeding from the rectum. You might notice blood on the toilet paper after using the toilet. Both of these can also cause lumps to appear in the rectum or around the anus. Because the symptoms can be similar, many people easily confuse the two conditions.

Polyps can be associated with changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation. Hemorrhoids should not cause these changes. However, polyps don’t always cause these changes either, so it’s important not to assume that you have a hemorrhoid just because there are no changes in your bowel habits.

In many cases, a physician can differentiate between a hemorrhoid and a polyp based on your symptoms and a physical exam. If you have a hemorrhoid, they’ll likely recommend home treatment, and no further testing is usually needed. If you have a polyp, you’ll most likely need a procedure to remove it and test it. Some polyps are cancerous or precancerous, so it’s important to do this testing.

Treatment of hemorrhoids 

Hemorrhoids are usually not dangerous. However, they can be uncomfortable, and treatments may help manage the discomfort. In addition, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of future hemorrhoids. Some of the useful methods of at-home care for hemorrhoids include:

  • Taking over-the-counter medications to help with pain and swelling, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen

  • Taking a sitz bath one or a few times a day. This involves sitting in a shallow pan or tub of warm water to help relieve pain or discomfort.

  • Using over-the-counter creams, ointments, or suppositories (such as Preparation H)

For most people, these methods will be enough to manage hemorrhoids. In more severe cases, doctors may prescribe medications to help shrink hemorrhoid tissue or recommend surgery to remove it.

Prevention of hemorrhoids

It’s also useful to take steps to reduce your risk of developing more hemorrhoids in the future. Some ways to do this include:

  • Eating more high in fiber foods (such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains)

  • Taking extra fiber in the form of supplements (such as psyllium husk or methylcellulose), if this is needed to keep your stool soft and easy to pass

  • Drinking plenty of water

  • Not straining during bowel movements

  • Avoiding sitting on the toilet for lengthy periods 

  • Going to the bathroom as soon as you feel the urge rather than waiting

Treatment of polyps

Treatment for polyps typically includes removing them, which is done during a colonoscopy. A long flexible tube with a light and camera on the end is inserted through the rectum. Specially designed surgical instruments can be inserted through the tube, allowing the surgeon to remove polyps. 

Some colorectal polyps are precancerous, meaning there’s a risk that they’ll turn into cancer in the future. This is why it’s important to remove polyps during a colonoscopy. Not all polyps are precancerous, but it’s difficult to tell the difference simply by looking at them. During your colonoscopy, any polyps will be removed and sent to a laboratory to be analyzed under a microscope. 

Prevention of polyps

Anyone can potentially develop colorectal polyps, and there’s no sure way to prevent them. However, there are ways to reduce your risk. These include:

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables and less red meat (especially processed meat)

  • Get enough physical activity (at least 150 minutes — two and a half hours — every week)

  • Quit smoking

  • If you drink alcohol, try to keep your consumption moderate (no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men).

  • If you’re overweight, take steps to lose some of the excess weight. Even losing just a few pounds can make a difference.

The lowdown

Hemorrhoids are swollen veins in the lower rectum that can be painful. However, they are not generally dangerous. Polyps, on the other hand, are growths or masses in the lining of the rectum or colon. While polyps themselves don’t cause any symptoms, there’s a risk that they may turn into colon cancer.

Frequently asked questions

Can a colonoscopy distinguish hemorrhoids from colon cancer?

Yes, the procedure can identify both. A colonoscopy can also identify other problems with your colon, like inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, or diverticulitis.

Can hemorrhoids lead to colon cancer?

No, hemorrhoids cannot turn into colon cancer. However, it’s possible that polyps can. Regular screenings can help detect colon polyps, allowing doctors to remove them before they turn into cancer.

Why do I have blood on the toilet paper after wiping?

There are several possible causes of this. The most common are hemorrhoids and anal fissures (small cracks in the mucous membrane around the anus). However, rectal bleeding can also be caused by more serious conditions, including cancer. It’s important to be checked by a doctor to make sure that your bleeding doesn’t indicate a serious condition.

Can you have hemorrhoids and polyps at the same time?

Polyps don’t cause hemorrhoids, nor do hemorrhoids cause polyps. However, it’s certainly possible to have both at the same time. In fact, these two conditions share some risk factors, including a sedentary lifestyle, alcohol use, and certain dietary factors.

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