Hemorrhoids are cushions of tissue containing swollen blood vessels located in the wall of the lower rectum and anus. Sometimes, hemorrhoids can protrude out of the anus, in which case you may be able to see or feel them.
While hemorrhoids rarely result in serious health problems, they can cause itching, pain, or bleeding after a bowel movement. Hemorrhoids are most common during pregnancy and after giving birth, and mainly affect those between the ages of 45 and 65 years.
Causes and triggers
Swollen blood vessels in the rectum and anus are often caused by an increase in pressure in that area of the body. Pregnancy, constipation, diarrhea, and frequent heavy lifting may lead to hemorrhoids.
Hemorrhoids usually resolve on their own within a few days. However, there are measures you can take at home to relieve symptoms:
- Reduce constipation
- Eat high-fiber foods (fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, etc.), and take supplements (e.g., Metamucil) as needed.
- If constipation persists, the use of a laxative may help soften stools.
- Take a sitz bath
- Soak the rectal area in 5 to 8 centimeters of warm or tolerably hot water for 10 to 15 minutes, two to three times daily.
- Do not add products (soap, bubble bath, etc.) to the water.
- Apply a cold compress or ice.
- A cold compress or ice can be applied to the anal area for 10 to 15 minutes several times a day to reduce swelling and itching.
- Apply over-the-counter products on the hemorrhoid.
- Zinc-based products (e.g., Anusol), which are sometimes combined with a pain-reliever (e.g., Anusol Plus), astringents (e.g., Tucks pads), and cortisone creams (e.g., Cortate), may be used.
- Clean the area with mild soap and water, and gently pat area dry before applying cream.
- Prescription medications are also available. Do not hesitate to speak to a health professional for guidance.
- Whatever the case may be, creams and suppositories should not be used for more than one week, unless advised otherwise by a health professional.
Should these measures not be enough to alleviate hemorrhoid discomfort, your doctor may suggest a treatment to remove the hemorrhoid. For more on these options, speak to your health care provider.
The following measures can be taken to prevent hemorrhoid-related symptoms:
- Avoid constipation.
- Eat a high-fiber diet.
- Stay well hydrated.
- Do not spend more than two minutes on the toilet.
- Avoid straining too much during a bowel movement.
- Do not delay bowel movements.
- Avoid donut-shaped cushions since they can worsen symptoms.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
When it comes to the treatment of hemorrhoids in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, zinc ointment (e.g., Anusol) leads the way. Pramoxine (e.g., Anusol Plus), or a zinc ointment combined with hydrocortisone, may also be used. Certain other preparations are not recommended for use in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. If this applies to you, speak to your health care provider for advice on hemorrhoid treatment.
When should I see a medical professional?
- If you are experiencing bleeding.
- If the hemorrhoid does not go back into the rectum after a bowel movement.
- If the problem persists for more than seven days.
- If there is leaking of feces between bowel movements.