What’s the Difference Between a Hemorrhoid and a Skin Tag?

Hemorrhoids and skin tags are often confused with one another, sometimes causing people to misdiagnose themselves with one or the other. Understanding how to tell the difference between the two is important to ensure that you find the right treatment. 

This article will go over both hemorrhoids and skin tags so you can learn the differences and know the right approach to take when dealing with your issue. 

What is a hemorrhoid?

Sometimes called piles, hemorrhoids are swollen blood vessels around your anus and rectum. You can have internal hemorrhoids that are inside the lining of your anal passageway, or external ones that form closer to the outside of your anus. Sometimes, hemorrhoids poke through the anus and hang out, these are called prolapsed hemorrhoids. 

Current data suggests that 1 in 20 Americans suffer from piles. It is exceedingly common in older adults, but pregnant women are also likely to have them. 

More often than not, they are caused by the straining of the muscles inside your anus/rectum, or excessive pressure put on this area. This causes the blood vessels to get inflamed and swell up. 

What is an anal skin tag?

An anal skin tag is simply a piece of tissue around your anus. It can look and feel like a lump, but there is generally nothing wrong with them. They shouldn’t be painful and aren’t the result of swollen blood vessels or anything of the sort. 

Simply put, they’re just pieces of extra flesh that form around this part of your body. However, they can form as a result of things like hemorrhoids or anal fissures. One study found that people were more likely to develop anal skin tags when they had a benign anal disease (BAD) than people without a BAD. 

What are the differences between hemorrhoids and anal skin tags?

Can a hemorrhoid look like an anal skin tag? Absolutely, which is why lots of people think they have hemorrhoids when really it is just a skin tag. 

Nevertheless, the two things do have some key differences. 

Primarily, a hemorrhoid is an enlarged blood vessel while a skin tag is just an excess piece of flesh. This means they are usually red or purple, which is a key thing a doctor might look at when examining you. Skin tags are more like the color of your skin, and they tend to be painless. 

Hemorrhoids also occur as a result of factors under your control. For instance, there has long been a link between constipation and piles. The connection is believed to stem from the extra straining that happens when you are constipated and trying to pass a stool. Sitting on the toilet for too long can also cause piles by making the anus stick out and bulge for too long, so the veins become inflamed. 

Contrastingly, skin tags are usually formed after you have had a benign anal disorder. This means you’ve had an issue with your anus that isn’t serious – like a hemorrhoid. Research suggests that 1 in 3 people with benign anal disorders have skin tags. 

How to tell the difference between hemorrhoids and skin tags?

Visually, there is a clear difference in color. However, it’s not always easy to get a good look at a hemorrhoid or anal skin tag. Instead, the best method of differentiating is by looking at the following: 

  • Pain
  • Bleeding

A lot of the time, hemorrhoids will be painful and cause some discomfort. You may feel a pulsating feeling in your anus, and the pain gets worse after going to the toilet or sitting for long periods. On the other hand, anal skin tags are painless. If you see or feel a growth that’s not painful, it could be a skin tag. 

One way to confirm this is to see if it bleeds. Hemorrhoids are clinically characterized by painless rectal bleeding, even at the slightest touch. This means that, even if you don’t feel pain, if it bleeds, it is a hemorrhoid. 

How to treat hemorrhoids?

Hemorrhoids can be treated at home using topical creams to ease the symptoms. These creams are available from most pharmacies and you can get a prescription from your doctor. Applying the hemorrhoid cream before bed is a good way to ease the symptoms, and there is research to suggest it can have a positive effect after as little as three weeks. 

Epsom salts are also very popular as they soothe the anus and can reduce inflammation and swelling. Running a warm bath with two tablespoons of Epsom salt after a bowel movement can ease a lot of pain. 

Making some lifestyle changes can also be considered a treatment for hemorrhoids: 

There’s even been some research into the efficacy of laxatives as a hemorrhoid treatment, easing bowel movements in patients and preventing excessive straining. 

How to treat a skin tag?

Skin tags don’t need to be treated as they don’t cause any pain or symptoms. However, they might make you feel uncomfortable or self-conscious. In this case, skin tag removal is a treatment option. 

This takes place in the doctor’s office, and they will usually inject something to numb the area before removing the excess skin surgically. Nowadays, laser removal or freeze therapy are alternatives to surgically cutting away the skin tag. 

When to see a doctor?

See a doctor if you are experiencing lots of pain and bleeding. You may have complications with hemorrhoids that could require more invasive treatments to remove them. 

Alternatively, call a doctor if you have a skin tag that you want to remove. A doctor can also help you if you are unsure whether or not you have a hemorrhoid, anal skin tag, or something else. 

Get help from an online doctor

While an online doctor can’t provide physical treatment for hemorrhoids or skin tags, they can help you differentiate between the two via virtual consultation. You can also get a prescription for hemorrhoid cream if you need it. Download the DrHouse app today to register an account and start your first on-demand visit. 

Key Takeaways

In summary, hemorrhoids are swollen blood vessels that look purple, bleed on contact, and can be very painful. Anal skin tags are extra pieces of flesh that form around your anus, usually after you have suffered from a benign anal disease. Most hemorrhoids can be treated at home, while skin tags don’t need to be touched at all. If you do want to remove a skin tag for personal reasons, contact a doctor for more information. 

Sources:

DrHouse articles are written by MDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. The contents of the DrHouse site are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.

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