A hemorrhoidectomy is the surgical removal of a hemorrhoid, which is an enlarged, swollen and inflamed cluster of vascular tissue combined with smooth muscle and connective tissue located in the lower part of the rectum or around the anus. A hemorrhoid is not a varicose vein in the strict sense. Hemorrhoids are also known as piles.
The primary purpose of a hemorrhoidectomy is to relieve the symptoms associated with hemorrhoids that have not responded to more conservative treatments. These symptoms commonly include bleeding and pain. In some cases the hemorrhoid may protrude from the patient's anus. Less commonly, the patient may notice a discharge of mucus or have the feeling that they have not completely emptied the bowel after defecating. Hemorrhoids are usually treated with dietary and medical measures before surgery is recommended because they are not dangerous, and are only rarely a medical emergency. Many people have hemorrhoids that do not produce any symptoms at all.
Hemorrhoids are categorized as either external or internal hemorrhoids. External hemorrhoids develop under the skin surrounding the anus; they may cause pain and bleeding when the vein in the hemorrhoid forms a clot. This is known as a thrombosed hemorrhoid. In addition, the piece of skin, known as a skin tag, that is left behind when a thrombosed hemorrhoid heals often causes problems for the patient's hygiene. Internal hemorrhoids develop inside the anus. They can cause pain when they prolapse (fall down toward the outside of the body) and cause the anal sphincter to go into spasm. They may bleed or release mucus that can cause irritation of the skin surrounding the anus. Lastly, internal hemorrhoids may become incarcerated or strangulated.
There are several types of surgical procedures that can reduce hemorrhoids. Most surgical procedures in current use can be performed on an outpatient level or office visit under local anesthesia.
Rubber band ligation is a technique that works well with internal hemorrhoids that protrude outward with bowel movements. A small rubber band is tied over the hemorrhoid, which cuts off the blood supply. The hemorrhoid and the rubber band will fall off within a few days and the wound will usually heal in a period of one to two weeks. The procedure causes mild discomfort and bleeding. Another procedure, sclerotherapy, utilizes a chemical solution that is injected around the blood vessel to shrink the hemorrhoid. A third effective method is infrared coagulation, which uses a special device to shrink hemorrhoidal tissue by heating. Both injection and coagulation techniques can be effectively used to treat bleeding hemorrhoids that do not protrude. Some surgeons use a combination of rubber band ligation, sclerotherapy, and infrared coagulation; this combination has been reported to have a success rate of 90.5%.
Surgical resection (removal) of hemorrhoids is reserved for patients who do not respond to more conservative therapies and who have severe problems with external hemorrhoids or skin tags. Hemorrhoidectomies done with a laser do not appear to yield better results than those done with a scalpel. Both types of surgical resection can be performed with the patient under local anesthesia.
Most patients with hemorrhoids are diagnosed because they notice blood on their toilet paper or in the toilet bowl after a bowel movement and consult their doctor. It is important for patients to visit the doctor whenever they notice bleeding from the rectum, because it may be a symptom of colorectal cancer or other serious disease of the digestive tract. In addition, such other symptoms in the anorectal region as itching, irritation, and pain may be caused by abscesses, fissures in the skin, bacterial infections, fistulae, and other disorders as well as hemorrhoids. The doctor will perform a digital examination of the patient's rectum in order to rule out these other possible causes.
Following the digital examination, the doctor will use an anoscope or sigmoidoscope in order to view the inside of the rectum and the lower part of the large intestine to check for internal hemorrhoids. The patient may be given a barium enema if the doctor suspects cancer of the colon; otherwise, imaging studies are not routinely performed in diagnosing hemorrhoids. In some cases, a laboratory test called a stool guaiac may be used to detect the presence of blood in stools.
Patients who are scheduled for a surgical hemorrhoidectomy are given a sedative intravenously before the procedure. They are also given small-volume saline enemas to cleanse the rectal area and lower part of the large intestine. This preparation provides the surgeon with a clean operating field.
Patients may experience pain after surgery as the anus tightens and relaxes. The doctor may prescribe narcotics to relieve the pain. The patient should take stool softeners and attempt to avoid straining during both defecation and urination. Soaking in a warm bath can be comforting and may provide symptomatic relief. The total recovery period following a surgical hemorrhoidectomy is about two weeks.
As with other surgeries involving the use of a local anesthetic, risks associated with a hemorrhoidectomy include infection, bleeding, and an allergic reaction to the anesthetic. Risks that are specific to a hemorroidectomy include stenosis (narrowing) of the anus; recurrence of the hemorrhoid; fistula formation; and nonhealing wounds.