Many people don’t realize that there is a difference between an anal fissure and hemorrhoids, which are often referred to as piles. An anal fissure is a tear in the actual skin portion that surrounds the rectum whereas a hemorrhoid is a vein that has become swollen in the lower rectum, or anal canal. They are both quite common and most heal with treatments that can be done at home.
They can affect people of all ages and by the age of 50 at least half of the adult population has had a least one hemorrhoid. Women are particularly susceptible to either condition when they are going through childbirth. This is due to the increased pressure in the pelvic area, especially during the last six months.
Straining or pushing during bowel movements causes the veins in the rectum to swell up more than usual. Where the tissue surrounding these veins normally fill with blood to control bowel function, the increased pressure and swelling from straining may cause hemorrhoids to develop. Conditions such as constipation, diarrhea, being overweight and pregnancy can also cause hemorrhoids to appear. When a person has hemorrhoids they can experience severe burning when cleaning after a bowel movement. Streaks of bright red blood may appear on the toilet paper or be seen floating separately in the toilet. Treatment most often involves adding more fiber to the diet and drinking more water on a daily basis.
In the case of anal fissures, these may develop when trying to pass a large stool. The stretching can cause injury to the rectum and a tear, or anal fissure may occur. Diarrhea that is persistent or trauma to the area may also cause fissures, as well as irritable bowel disease. Fissures cause stinging, burning and sharp pain when going to the bathroom and the usual treatment is to reduce constipation problems so that less trauma occurs to the skin around the rectum. Over time the fissure will disappear on its own, but if it persists a doctor should be consulted.
Since anal fissures and hemorrhoids have many of the same symptoms, they are often misdiagnosed. One may have fissures that are treated as hemorrhoids while others may have hemorrhoids that are thought to be fissures. In some instances the blood that appears with either of these may cause a doctor to suspect a more serious ailment such as rectal or colon cancer. This is especially true if the doctor doesn’t immediately find the problem during a digital rectal exam.