A sore, itchy, bleeding anus is commonly referred to as a “hemorrhoid,” but may actually be something else. Hemorrhoids can exist alone or in conjunction with fissures, pruritis ani, or even cancer. Learn the differences so you can choose the best treatment.
Fissures, or tears in the mucous membrane of the anus, are very common in all ages. The main symptoms are bleeding and pain during or after a large, hard bowel movement. For most people, a small fissure will naturally heal itself provided it is protected from further trauma. Sometimes an anal fissure itches intensely during healing, or if it has trapped feces and toilet paper debris. You can protect a fissure by gently cleaning your anus and rectum with warm water via a bulb syringe; lubricate with petrolatum or oil before inserting. Follow up with a soothing suppository or ointments.
To prevent tearing your anal fissures, try dietary capsules or powders containing psyllium, flaxseed, or other bulk fibers. These plants work well to ease constipation. relieve painful fissures, and promote healing. You especially want to avoid both constipation and diarrhea, so don’t overdo the fiber, and be sure to drink plenty of water while taking fiber supplements.
Pruritis ani, literally “itchy anus,” is another condition that may or may not be caused by hemorrhoids. When a hemorrhoid itches, it is usually because it is secreting mucus, or is irritated by retained feces. A fissure itches for the same reasons. But pruritus ani can also be caused by diabetes, hormonal changes, yeast infection, pinworms, sexually transmitted disease such as chlamydia and herpes, and even cancer. Severe anal itching that does not respond to over-the-counter treatment should always be checked by a doctor.
Natural products that help with anal itching may contain ingredients such as extracts of horse chestnut, sophora japonica, stone root, cod liver oil, and shark liver oil. Each of these plant or animal products has proven to soothe anal itching. Extracts of horse chestnut and sophora japonica, though primarily used in creams and ointments, are also found in capsule form. Oral supplementation with horse chestnut extract or sophora japonica works directly in the bloodstream, improving circulation and promoting healing of irritated anal tissues.
Though not pleasant to think about, you should have a rectal exam yearly to detect any changes in tissue that could be cancerous. For example, human papillovirus is a cause of many cases of anal cancer, yet often shows no symptoms and may not be detected by the patient. A lab culture is a nearly 100% foolproof way to determine the presence of HPV or pre-cancerous cells in the anus.
Whether it’s a case of simple hemorrhoids, or something more serious, don’t ignore the symptoms. If your anal problems persist for more than two weeks, you should seek medical attention immediately.