It’s a problem most people have had, but few are willing to discuss. That is really too bad, since hemorrhoids can often be successfully treated and prevented with some simple techniques and lifestyle changes.
Hemorrhoids are swollen veins located just inside the lower end of the rectum or outside the anus. They are classified as internal, prolapsed or external. Prolapsed hemorrhoids are internal veins that stretch or collapse, and protrude to the outside of the anus.
The cause of hemorrhoids is increased pressure on the anal/rectal area. The pressure, in turn, may be caused by many things. Chronic constipation, straining while moving the bowels, sitting too long on the toilet, diarrhea, pregnancy, childbirth and obesity are some of the most common contributing factors.
The symptoms are extremely variable. Internal hemorrhoids sometimes go unnoticed because they are usually not painful. Prolapsed hemorrhoids may hurt or itch, and cause painful bowel movements. External hemorrhoids can produce severe pain, itching or burning. All three kinds of hemorrhoids may cause bleeding. It is important to see a doctor if you have bleeding, because it can also be a sign of colon cancer.
Treatment and Self-care
As uncomfortable as they are, hemorrhoids usually don’t last more than a few days. People with persistent or chronic cases may seek surgery or other forms of permanent treatment.
If the pain is excruciating, your doctor can prescribe a cream or medication. Non-prescription hemorrhoid medications may be useful in mild or moderate cases. But the medicine is less important than the self-care methods, many of which are aimed at softening the stool and reducing constipation.
- Try sitz baths (sitting in warm water) two or three times a day.
- Apply an ice pack or cold pack.
- Increase fiber in your diet. Eat lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Some people add supplemental fiber as well, in the form of bran, psyllium or other high-fiber products.
- Drink at least six to eight glasses of water a day.
- Clean yourself very gently after a bowel movement. Some people use plastic squirt bottles of warm water and then pat themselves dry.
- Don’t strain and don’t sit too long on the toilet.
If you have had repeated bouts of hemorrhoids, you may be able to prevent future incidents by permanently employing some of the self-care techniques, especially the fiber and fluids. An aerobic exercise program, such as brisk walking, promotes bowel regularity, which also helps prevent hemorrhoids.