Anyone can get them, hemorrhoids are very common, more than 55% percent of people deal with them at some point in their lives. They’re usually not serious, but they can be unpleasant.
What are Hemorroids?
A hemorrhoid is a clump of swollen veins around the anus, in their normal state, they are cushions that help with stool control.
The veins around your anus tend to stretch under pressure and bulge or swell. So while the exact cause of hemorrhoids remains unknown, several factors that increase the pressure in the abdomen are believed to play a role, such as:
- Straining during bowel movements
- Prolonged sitting on the toilet
- Chronic diarrhea or constipation
- Lifting heavy objects
- Being overweight
- Diet high in fat and low in fiber
- Jobs that require sitting or standing for long stretches of time
- Aging, because the tissues that support the veins in your rectum and anus can weaken and stretch
- Lack of exercise
- Loss of pelvic floor muscle tone due to childbirth or surgery
- Pregnancy, when the enlarging uterus presses on the veins
The Types and Symptoms of Hemorrhoids
Hemorrhoids can be either internal – occurring inside the lower rectum – or external, developing under the skin around the anus.
Internal hemorrhoids are usually not painful but can cause bleeding, which you may notice on toilet paper or in the toilet bowl. However, don’t assume that the bleeding is hemorrhoids, you should see your doctor to rule out other conditions. Sometimes internal hemorrhoids can bulge out of the anus or “prolapse.” This can cause pain and itching. It may go back in on its own as the swelling goes down, or you can gently nudge it back.
External hemorrhoids rarely cause a problem. Sometimes blood may pool in an external hemorrhoid and form a clot (thrombus) that can result in pain and swelling, forming a hard lump near your anus. The clot usually dissolves, leaving behind a little piece of skin called a skin tag that can be sore and itchy.
Tips to Relieve Hemorrhoids
Hemorrhoids can be a painful and embarrassing condition. Fortunately, there’s a lot we can do about them. Dramatic relief can be found with these tips:
- Eat high-fiber food to keep your stools soft, so they pass easily, which will help you avoid the straining that can cause hemorrhoids. Add fiber to your diet slowly to avoid problems with gas.
- Consider fiber supplements.These products help keep stools soft and regular.
- Cut down on spicy food, caffeine and citrus fruits, if your hemorrhoids itch or hurt.
- Don’t strain. Straining when trying to pass a stool creates greater pressure in the veins in the lower rectum.
- Avoid sitting too long on the toilet, that can increase the pressure on the veins in the anus. If you don’t go after a few minutes, don’t wait or force it. Try to get into a routine where you go at the same time every day.
- Dampen toilet paper first to avoid irritation, or use alcohol free wipes.
- Go as soon as you feel the urge. If you wait to pass a bowel movement and the urge goes away. Stool can back up, become dry and be harder to pass. And that can lead to increased pressure and straining.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Drink six to eight glasses of water every day to help keep stools soft. Prune juice is a natural laxative and can help you go.
- Sit in warm baths. Soak in a bathtub filled with a few inches of warm water for about 15 minutes at a time. Do it two or three times a day and after every bowel movement. It can relieve itching, irritation, and spasms of the sphincter muscle. Take care to pat gently afterward to dry, do not rub or wipe hard.
- Wear cotton and loose underwear to stop moisture from building up, which can irritate your hemorrhoids.
- Sit on a cushion instead of a hard surface. It will ease the swelling and may also help prevent new hemorrhoids from forming.
- Ice the area: apply a small cold pack to the anal region several times a day. It can numb the pain and reduce the swelling.
- Change position at least once every hour when sitting or standing for long periods of time to reduce pressure on the veins.
- Avoid heavy lifting or straining
- Exercise to help prevent constipation and keep you regular.
- Seek topical relief with over-the-counter hemorrhoid creams containing a local anesthetic, hydrocortisone and/or witch hazel to soothe the pain and itch. However, don’t use topical ointments for more than a week without consulting your doctor
Consult your doctor
To exclude other medical conditions, don’t assume rectal bleeding is due to hemorrhoids. Also talk to your doctor if you know you have hemorrhoids and they bleed frequently or excessively, or don’t improve with the above tips.