What are polyps?

Polyps are outgrowths of the mucous membranes, which may or may not be attached to the mucosal surface with a stalk. When a polyp has a stalk, it is called stalked, but when it does not have one, it is called sessile. The mucous membranes of the body are found in the linings of the nose, sinuses, stomach, colon, small intestine, uterus, cervix, and urinary bladder, therefore these areas are also where these structures they can grow. The symptoms of these growths depend on where they occur, but they generally cause erosion of the mucous membrane, leading to bleeding or obstruction of the lumen of the involved organ. The definitive treatment of polyps is their removal.

The three most common types based on the parts of the body involved are colorectal, cervical, and nasal polyps. Colorectal growths occur in the colon or rectum, or both. When they are present, a person may experience abdominal pain, cramps, constipation, and bleeding. Most of the time, they do not cause any symptoms. They are usually diagnosed by rectal exam, barium enema, flexible sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy.

In a colonoscopy, a flexible tube containing a camera is inserted into the colon, and this camera then transmits images to a monitor. During a sigmoidoscopy, the flexible tube is only inserted to the level of the lower colon and rectum. When colorectal polyps are found, they should be removed immediately. Treatment of colorectal polyps involves removal by colonoscopy. It is particularly important to remove them as soon as they are diagnosed because they are precancerous growths.

The cervix connects the uterus and the vagina, and cervical polyps occur in this area and usually cause abnormal bleeding among women who have given birth and are either postmenopausal or premenopausal. They are not associated with sexually transmitted diseases and their cause is still unknown. Diagnosis of these growths usually occurs during a pelvic exam. Unlike their colorectal counterparts, cervical growths rarely turn malignant. Treatment consists of surgical removal, laser, or cauterization.

Nasal polyps occur in the paranasal sinuses and are usually associated with allergic rhinitis and sinusitis. These polyps can block the nasal passages and cause shortness of breath, nose bleeds, frequent infections, and bad breath. Medical treatment involves nasal steroid spray, which reduces inflammation and prevents the polyp from growing. Surgical removal is sometimes necessary, particularly when nasal sprays do not work and the person experiences worsening shortness of breath.

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