Hemorrhoids vs Anal Fissures: The Key Differences
Anal fissures and hemorrhoids affect the same area of the body, but they are two very different conditions. Either one could cause you a host of troubles. There's treatment for each, but, first, you have to know which one is afflicting you.
Take a look at the hemorrhoids vs anal fissure facts, and then talk to your doctor about the symptoms you are experiencing.
Hemorrhoids: What Are They?
Hemorrhoids are inflamed, swollen veins in the lower part of the colorectal system. Internal hemorrhoids occur in the lower rectum or the anus. External hemorrhoids are located around the outside of the anus.
Anal Fissures: What Are They?
Anal fissures are tears in the lining of the anus. The lining is thin and delicate, so damage can occur easily. When it tears, the muscle underneath may be exposed.
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Similarities and Differences in Risk Factors
Bowel movement problems can contribute to both hemorrhoids and anal fissures. Constipation is a particularly common culprit. Hemorrhoids can develop because of the strain and pressure that constipation can place on your rectum. Anal fissures may occur when trying to pass hard stools. Frequent diarrhea can lead to both of these problems, too.
Having a baby could contribute to developing hemorrhoids or fissures. Women may develop hemorrhoids while pregnant because of the extra weight that the baby places on the lower part of the body. Pushing during labor can cause hemorrhoids as well. As for anal fissures, they're most likely to happen during delivery.
Age is one of the biggest risk-factor differences between hemorrhoids and fissures. In general, people's risk for hemorrhoids goes up as they get older. Fissures, on the other hand, often happen among young people. Even babies can get fissures, and they're most common in people between the ages of 20 and 40.
Similarities and Differences in Symptoms
Bleeding is a key similarity between hemorrhoids and anal fissures. With either condition, you may notice blood on the toilet paper after a bowel movement. You could even spot some blood in the toilet bowl.
Pain could be a similarity or a difference. Internal hemorrhoids don't usually hurt. External hemorrhoids can be painful, though. Anal fissures hurt, too, especially during a bowel movement and for some time afterward.
With fissures, your pain may be accompanied by muscle spasms. You're unlikely to experience spasms with a hemorrhoid.
Depending on the location, you may be able to spot signs of a fissure or a hemorrhoid. With a fissure, you might see a small tear in the anal region. A bump or a skin tag may accompany it. External hemorrhoids can appear as small bumps or lumps, too. They may seem hard to the touch. Past hemorrhoids can leave behind skin tags.
Internal hemorrhoids may prolapse as they get worse. Prolapse means that they protrude from the anus. That's not something that an anal fissure will do.
Similarities and Differences in Treatment
For an external hemorrhoid or a fissure near the anal opening, your doctor may be able to provide a diagnosis with just a quick peek at the area. Sometimes, though, the doctor may need to get a look at the inside of your rectum. A tool called an anoscope is useful for that.
Once a diagnosis is made, you may have a few different options for treatment. For example, you could do some simple at-home care tricks in hopes that your condition will resolve itself.
Keeping your bowel movements soft with water, fiber-rich foods and fiber supplements will allow your rectal canal to heal. Soaking in a warm tub or a sitz bath can provide pain relief for either condition. Over-the-counter pain relievers may be helpful, too.
If you need more intensive treatment, though, the solution will differ depending on which of the two conditions you have.
There are multiple surgical options for hemorrhoids. They include rubber band ligation and laser coagulation to cut off the blood supply to the affected tissue. There's also hemorrhoidectomy, which is a surgical excision procedure.
The goal of anal fissure surgery isn't to take the affected tissue out of the body. Rather, it's to ease muscle tightness and spasms so that the fissure can heal. Your doctor may first recommend using medication or injections to relax the muscle. Also, anal dilation could be used to stretch the rectum. If surgery is needed, it will involve cutting the anal sphincter muscle.
Similarities and Differences in Prevention
Conveniently, prevention strategies for hemorrhoids and anal fissures are pretty similar. The best thing you can do is to maintain healthy bowel habits.
That means getting plenty of water, fiber and exercise. Those things can keep your stools soft and your bowels moving so that you don't end up constipated. Also, you should respond to your body's signals instead of putting off trips to the bathroom.
There's one additional tip that may help with hemorrhoid prevention: losing weight. People who are overweight may be more likely than others to develop hemorrhoids. Weight doesn't play a role in anal fissures, though.
Hemorrhoids vs Anal Fissure: Which Do You Have?
The best way to determine whether you are dealing with hemorrhoids or anal fissures is to see your doctor. Medical professionals have the tools and training to review your symptoms, examine the affected area, and make the hemorrhoids vs anal fissure call.
Your treatment will depend on which of these two conditions you have. There's also a chance that an entirely different issue could be causing your symptoms. An expert's insight is crucial.
To find a doctor in your area who uses state-of-the-art colorectal treatment techniques, check out our Find a Doctor feature.
As with all medical issues, your physician is the ultimate source as to what procedure best fits your needs. Discuss all options and get a second opinion if you have any doubts. These articles are intended to be a source of general information only.