It’s easy to make hemorrhoids the butt of our jokes (pun intended). For one, they occur outside the anal sphincter, a body part that has been a major source of laughs ever since Wayne’s World introduced the universe to the infamous “A sphincter says what?” gag, years ago. And two, people rarely talk openly about their own problems with hemorrhoids, and we all know that it’s easy to make light of something when it seems like the only sufferers are fictional characters.
The truth is that hemorrhoids is a very common—and painful—condition. In fact, approximately 75 percent of people in the United States will have hemorrhoids at some point in their lives, with the peak age being between 45 and 65. The good news is that most hemorrhoids go away on their own within about a week and are rarely dangerous. However, this is of little consolation when you are in a middle of a bout with this uncomfortable condition. Read on for ways to treat a current hemorrhoid problem, as well as advice on how to prevent future occurrences.
Quick fix for hemorrhoids.
Apply an ice pack to the affected area for quick, temporary relief from hemorrhoids pain. Ice will also help reduce swelling and itching.
Two Types of Hemorrhoids: Internal and External
Internal hemorrhoids are swollen veins inside the anal canal. Suffers of internal hemorrhoids usually cannot feel them, and some people experience no symptoms at all. However, sometimes the enlarged vein can bulge out of the anus, causing pain, itching and discomfort. If you have internal hemorrhoids, you may find bright red blood or some mucus on toilet paper or the surface of your stool.
External hemorrhoids appear as bumps or lumps on the anus. External hemorrhoids are caused by swollen veins at the “anal margin” and are usually more obvious than their internal cousins. The painful lumps form when the hemorrhoids become irritated and clot, causing what is known as thrombosed hemorrhoid.
Simple Ways to Relieve and Treat Hemorrhoids at Home
To treat external hemorrhoids, apply an over-the-counter cream or ointment to the affected area up to four times a day. Creams and ointments, which can be found at most drugstores or supermarkets, help to relieve all of the symptoms of hemorrhoids, including pain and itching, by shrinking the swollen hemorrhoidal tissue. They also coat the affected area to prevent additional irritation and discomfort. There are several respected brands of over-the-counter ointments, including Preparation H and Tucks. For relief for excessive itching, look for an ointment that contains hydrocortisone.
To treat internal hemorrhoids, insert an over-the-counter suppository into the rectum up to four times a day. Like creams and ointments, suppositories help relieve pain, itching and swelling. However, unlike creams, they treat internal hemorrhoids, not external ones. To use, insert the suppository about two inches into the rectum (if you have difficulty getting it in, you can apply a lubricant to your anal area first). It will come out naturally with your next bowel movement. Most people prefer to leave the suppository in overnight. Preparation H, Tucks and Calmol 4 are popular brands of hemorrhoid suppositories.
Soak in a sitz bath for 30 minutes. Some people refer to a sitz bath as a “sits bath” because it’s a bath where you soak your buttocks. Soaking in warm water promotes blood flow, which will help relieve discomfort and speed up the healing process. You can purchase a plastic sitz bath, which sits over the toilet, at drug stores or online for less than $15. Most sitz baths continuously add warm water so that it doesn’t get cold during your long soak. If you don’t want to buy a sitz bath, you can also use a bathtub or swallow bucket.
Take a stool softener to ease the pain of bowel movements. Constipation and straining to empty your bowels can irritate hemorrhoids. Taking a stool softener (which can be found in pill or liquid form) will make bowel movements easier. Most stool softeners are made of docusate sodium, which increases the amount of water in the stool to make it softer. There are numerous brands of stool softeners available over the counter, including Dulcolax, Colace and Phillips. Just be sure to read the directions carefully; overuse of stool softeners can cause nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.
See a doctor if your hemorrhoids don’t respond to at-home treatments. Most hemorrhoids sufferers will find relief using over-the-counter medicines or other at-home treatments. However, if you don’t notice improvement within one week, contact your doctor. He will be able to determine if you need prescription medicine, surgical relief or if you have a more severe problem (for example, colon and rectal cancers have some of the same symptoms as hemorrhoids).
Natural Remedies to Relieve Hemorrhoids
Apple cider vinegar. There are several ways that apple cider vinegar can be used to treat hemorrhoids. Soak a cotton ball in apple cider vinegar and apply it directly to the affected area a few times a day to lessen pain and promote shrinking. You can also try drinking apple cider vinegar by mixing 2 tablespoons of it with 8 ounces of water (some say this also helps to promote weight loss). Drink this mix once a day with breakfast. Finally, you can get relief by soaking in a sitz bath or shallow tub filled with a few inches of warm water mixed with 1 to 2 cups of apple cider vinegar. Soak for 20 minutes.
Witch hazel. Witch hazel is a liquid astringent that can help shrink blood vessels to reduce swelling and bleeding in the rectum and anus. Soak a cotton ball in the liquid and gently apply it to the affected area up to three times a day until the symptoms begin to go away. Witch hazel creams or lotions work just as well as the liquid. For extra cooling relief for burning and itching, keep your bottle of witch hazel in the refrigerator.
Horse chestnut. The herb horse chestnut relieves inflammation, soothes pain and helps to strengthen the blood vessels. Horse chestnut is found in creams that can be applied directly to the affected area up to three times a day. It can also be taken orally in pill form or in a tea. However, since portions of the horse chestnut plant can be toxic, be sure to only purchase horse chestnut products from a trustworthy health or drug store.
When to See a Doctor about Hemorrhoids
Contact your doctor if you have:
- Moderate to severe rectal pain that doesn’t respond to at-home treatment after more than one week.
- Heavy rectal bleeding or bleeding not associated with a bowel movement.
- A lump in your anus that gets bigger and more painful.
- A fever along with bloody stools.
- Extreme difficulty passing stools, despite taking a stool softener.
- Very narrow stools (thinner than a pencil).
- A prolapsed hemorrhoid that will not go back into your anus.
How to Prevent Hemorrhoids
Eat high-fiber foods to prevent constipation. People with hemorrhoids often suffer from constipation, and the pain associated with straining to empty your bowels also irritates hemorrhoids. Consuming foods that are high in fiber will help keep you regular and make bowel movements less painful. Try to eat a variety of foods that contain at least five grams of fiber per serving, such as broccoli, beans, nuts, whole-grain pasta and cereal, raspberries and pears.
Exercise for 20 minutes a day. Even moderate exercise, like walking around the block a few times or climbing the stairs instead of taking the elevator, will help stimulate digestion and prevent constipation. Exercise also helps prevent obesity, one of the main causes of hemorrhoids.
Drink at least eight glasses of water a day. Water also aids digestion and helps to soften the stool. If you find it difficult to drink enough water, try keeping a bottle on your desk at work at all times or, if you prefer flavored or sweetened drinks, try putting lemons, limes or cucumber slices in your water to add a little flavor.
Maintain a healthy weight. People who are obese are more likely to suffer from hemorrhoids because added weight puts extra pressure on the rectal veins. Consult your doctor for advice on healthy ways to lose weight.
Don’t sit down for long periods of time. This is a real challenge for those of us with desk jobs, but it is very important to stay active throughout the day. Set a reminder on your phone or computer to get up and walk around for a few minutes every hour.