Haemorrhoids occur when blood vessels in the rectum and anus come under pressure and swell, causing irritation and inflammation. They can appear inside the rectum as internal haemorrhoids or under the skin around the anus as external haemorrhoids. The symptoms of haemorrhoids can be very disconcerting, and a common question regarding them crops up time and again – can haemorrhoids actually kill you?
Why haemorrhoid symptoms are alarming
Haemorrhoids are extremely common, affecting millions around the world every year. The likelihood of suffering from them is increased if you’re overweight, have an unhealthy diet, spend a lot of time sitting, or are pregnant. Your chance of getting haemorrhoids also increases as you get older.
Haemorrhoids symptoms can be upsetting for those who have never experienced them before, either personally or through the experience of someone else. Common symptoms accompanying haemorrhoids include itchiness around the anus, pain during bowel movements or when shifting sitting positions, small bumps around the anal opening, bleeding or blood in the stool, and discharge of mucus or faecal matter during a bowel movement.
Anyone would be concerned if their body began exhibiting these symptoms, no matter how level-headed they might be. It’s no wonder, then, that so many individuals panic when haemorrhoids symptoms first manifest themselves. They are, however, not generally considered to be life-threatening.
Can haemorrhoids ever become fatal?
While haemorrhoids usually clear up quickly and often don’t require the input of a medical professional, some issues can arise that can cause dangerous complications.
In the case of internal haemorrhoids, prolapsing can occur, when they push through the rectum into the anus. This can often be accompanied by significant bleeding, which is always an alarming symptom. Prolapsed haemorrhoids are not life-threatening, but problems can occur when they prolapse extensively outside of the anal opening and become visible – in this instance, they will require treatment to rectify the issue before it progresses into a rectal prolapse. According to ASCRS [link: https://www.fascrs.org/patients/disease-condition/rectal-prolapse-0]:
“Rectal prolapse is a condition in which the rectum (the last part of the large intestine) loses the normal attachments that keep it fixed inside the body, allowing it to slide out through the anal opening, turning it “inside out.” Rectal prolapse affects mostly adults, but women ages 50 and older have six times the risk as men. It can be embarrassing and often has a negative effect on a patient’s quality of life.”
While haemorrhoids don’t necessarily cause rectal prolapses directly, they can contribute to the likelihood of them occurring as they are often associated with chronic constipation, which is a key factor in haemorrhoids flaring up.
External haemorrhoids can become complicated and problematic when thrombosis occurs. In this case, a blood clot forms and becomes stuck inside the swollen and inflamed veins in the anal region. Very Well Health [link: https://www.verywellhealth.com/thrombosed-hemorrhoid-1945070] describes them thusly:
“Thrombosed haemorrhoids are typically external haemorrhoids that have no blood flow due to a blood clot in the vein. Thrombosed haemorrhoids are not considered to be dangerous, yet they can be quite painful. In most cases, the blood clot is eventually reabsorbed by the body and the symptoms resolve themselves.”
Thrombosed haemorrhoids manifest as a single pile or circle of piles, which turn bluish due to trapped blood in the vein. Unlike normal haemorrhoids, which are irritating and uncomfortable without being overly painful, thrombosed haemorrhoids are very painful and require treatment from a doctor, who will ensure that the clot contained within the haemorrhoid is dealt with before it can move to a more dangerous part of the body through the bloodstream.
A small number of serious complications can arise as a result of haemorrhoids occurring. According to Medical News Today [link: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/73938.php], these include:
“Strangulated haemorrhoids: If the blood supply to the haemorrhoid is cut off, it may become strangulated. This can cause significant pain.
Anaemia: Significant, chronic blood loss from haemorrhoids can lead to anaemia. This occurs when there are not enough red blood cells in a person’s circulation.
Blood clots: Sometimes, blood may clot in the anus, which can be painful. The area will swell and become inflamed.”
While these conditions aren’t necessarily fatal, they can cause significant pain and discomfort, and certainly require medical action.
What happens if haemorrhoids don’t stop bleeding?
If you find bright red blood in your stool, you should speak to your doctor immediately as the symptom may not stem from haemorrhoids. Your physician will likely recommend a series of tests to determine the exact cause of your rectal bleeding, and will suggest further action if required.
Haemorrhoids will generally stop bleeding very quickly. They may also bleed profusely in the case of a ruptured thrombosed haemorrhoid, but even then the bleeding will subside after a short time. If your rectal bleeding does not stop, it could be symptomatic of another, more serious issue such as an anal fissure, anal or colon cancer, angiodysplasia, crohn’s disease, diverticulosis, proctitis, or solitary rectal ulcer syndrome.
Do not, however, attempt to self-diagnose if blood appears in your stool – leave that to the doctor.
When will more extreme treatment be required?
Haemorrhoids are very treatable, but if left unchecked, they can progress into more serious conditions. Prolapsed or thrombosed haemorrhoids can have a detrimental impact on your daily routine and make life more difficult than it needs to be. In this case, a more aggressive treatment approach will be required to resolve the issue.
In the event that haemorrhoids become particularly large or painful, a variety of surgical options are available to help deal with them. Rubber band ligation, sclerotherapy and haemorrhoidectomy are just three of several methods that can help remove haemorrhoids completely and restore a patient’s health and happiness.
Haemorrhoids can cause a great deal of irritation, discomfort and pain. Symptoms associated with them can be alarming, especially in the case of rectal bleeding or thrombosed haemorrhoids. However, it’s highly unlikely that haemorrhoids will result in death, unless another condition flares up simultaneously.
Always consult your doctor immediately if you’re concerned about potential haemorrhoids, or haemorrhoid symptoms that persist even after treatment. Haemorrhoids are not fatal, but they share symptoms with a number of other conditions that are life-threatening.