Infrared coagulation (IRC) therapy is a nonsurgical procedure that uses heat from infrared light to harden and shrivel hemorrhoids. The heat clots the vessels that supply hemorrhoids with blood. Without a blood supply, the hemorrhoids die and eventually shed from healthy tissue. Scar tissue forms on the anal canal wall, holding other veins in place.
A treated hemorrhoid will not fall off immediately after the procedure. Instead, it takes about a week for the hemorrhoid to be eliminated.
A doctor might recommend IRC therapy if you have bleeding or prolapsed hemorrhoids. Prolapsed hemorrhoids are internal hemorrhoids that protrude out of the anus, and they can cause itching, bleeding and discomfort.
Doctors may also suggest IRC therapy as an alternative to a hemorrhoidectomy. A hemorrhoidectomy is a procedure that surgically removes hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoidectomies can cause pain during the postoperative stage and come with a higher risk of complication than nonsurgical options. Surgery also requires more time off from work than other treatment forms and is typically more expensive. Unlike a hemorrhoidectomy, IRC treatment can be completed quickly in a doctor’s office.
Infrared coagulation is a safe and straightforward procedure. Although patients usually do not have severe pain after the treatment, they might experience the following side effects:
Like other office-based procedures, IRC therapy poses little risk of major complications. Rarely, patients might experience the following after a hemorrhoid IRC procedure:
Infrared coagulation is effective for about 70% of patients. This success rate has been reported for patients who received the treatment three to four times. Hemorrhoids can recur after infrared coagulation, leading some patients to need surgery for relief. About 20% of people may need surgery after IRC therapy.
Effectiveness mostly depends on the doctor’s experience performing infrared coagulation. The patient also plays a vital role in a successful recovery and preventing future hemorrhoids.
Infrared coagulation is only used to treat some types of external hemorrhoids. This form of hemorrhoid treatment is more commonly used to treat small to medium-sized internal hemorrhoids. If you’re unsure about the type of hemorrhoids you have, ask your doctor, and they can help you choose the right path for your needs.
If you and your doctor decide IRC therapy is right for you, make sure to ask questions so you can properly prepare. To give you a general idea of what IRC treatment looks like, here’s what you can expect before, during and after the procedure:
Ask your doctor about the procedure and its risks, benefits and steps. You might also ask about other hemorrhoid treatment options. If you choose to continue with IRC therapy, make sure your doctor knows all the medications, vitamins and supplements you take. Some of these could increase the risk of complications, especially if you take blood thinners.
Know that your doctor may ask you to use a laxative or enema to clear your colon before your appointment.
At the start of the procedure, your doctor will likely apply a numbing gel, like lidocaine. During infrared coagulation, you will lie on your side as a doctor inserts a small probe into your rectum, positioning it above the hemorrhoidal tissue. The probe is part of a device called an infrared coagulator. The physician will use the instrument to deliver short bursts of infrared light to the hemorrhoid. You may feel some discomfort and warmth during the treatment, and you can expect the procedure to take about 30 minutes.
After the procedure, you might experience pain and a full feeling in your lower belly. You may also feel like you need to make a bowel movement. Discomfort can last for about a week after the procedure.
You might also notice a small amount of blood when you go to the bathroom, which is normal. Slight bleeding is a sign the hemorrhoid has fallen off. The bleeding should stop on its own within two to three weeks.
During your recovery, you may need to take time off from work, depending on your job and how you feel. If your job requires lifting, it’s best to wait a few days before returning. It’s important to avoid heavy lifting and straining during bowel movements as you heal. Your doctor may recommend taking a stool softener during your recovery. They should give you self-care instructions, as well, so you know exactly what to do and avoid.
Your doctor may then schedule a follow-up exam with you around three months after the procedure. If you notice any signs of infection, have severe pain or notice other concerns before then, reach out to your doctor right away.