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Hemorrhoid cushions are a part of normal human anatomy and become a pathological disease only when they experience abnormal changes. There are three main cushions present in the normal anal canal. These are located classically at left lateral, right anterior, and right posterior positions. They are composed of neither arteries nor veins, but blood vessels called sinusoids, connective tissue, and smooth muscle.:175 Sinusoids do not have muscle tissue in their walls, as veins do. This set of blood vessels is known as the hemorrhoidal plexus.

Hemorrhoid cushions are important for continence. They contribute to 15–20% of anal closure pressure at rest and protect the internal and external anal sphincter muscles during the passage of stool. When a person bears down, the intra-abdominal pressure grows, and hemorrhoid cushions increase in size, helping maintain anal closure. Hemorrhoid symptoms are believed to result when these vascular structures slide downwards or when venous pressure is excessively increased. Increased internal and external anal sphincter pressure may also be involved in hemorrhoid symptoms. Two types of hemorrhoids occur: internals from the superior hemorrhoidal plexus and externals from the inferior hemorrhoidal plexus. The pectinate line divides the two regions.

Hemorrhoids are typically diagnosed by physical examination. A visual examination of the anus and surrounding area may diagnose external or prolapsed hemorrhoids. A rectal exam may be performed to detect possible rectal tumors, polyps, an enlarged prostate, or abscesses. This examination may not be possible without appropriate sedation because of pain, although most internal hemorrhoids are not associated with pain.

Visual confirmation of internal hemorrhoids may require anoscopy, insertion of a hollow tube device with a light attached at one end. The two types of hemorrhoids are external and internal. These are differentiated by their position with respect to the pectinate line. Some persons may concurrently have symptomatic versions of both. If pain is present, the condition is more likely to be an anal fissure or an external hemorrhoid rather than an internal hemorrhoid.

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