Hemorrhoids are dilated veins, located near the anus, that look like small cushions. These veins can become swollen and painful following local pressure or straining. Factors that predispose an individual to this condition are diarrhea, constipation, obesity, pregnancy, and prolonged standing.

Hemorrhoids can be located inside (internal) or outside (external) the anus. Internal hemorrhoids are less painful than external hemorrhoids but bleed more. People with internal hemorrhoids sometimes note traces of blood on toilet tissue. On the other hand, external hemorrhoids rarely bleed but are very painful. Itching and burning accompany both types of hemorrhoids.

Consult your physician when hemorrhoids are associated with red or black stools.

Hemorrhoids can affect everyone. About 7 out of 10 people will suffer from hemorrhoids at least once in their life. Some people appear to be more susceptible and develop hemorrhoids more easily than others when they suffer from diarrhea or constipation. Diet appears to play an important role in their development.

How can hemorrhoids be prevented?

Changing your diet is probably the best thing you can do to treat hemorrhoids. A high-fiber diet will help normalize bowel movements and prevent constipation and diarrhea. Susceptible individuals can also follow these simple measures to help prevent them:

  • drink plenty of non-alcoholic liquids
  • avoid constipating foods: eggs, cheese, strong beer
  • do not delay the urge to defecate
  • do not sit on the toilet for prolonged periods
  • avoid straining during bowel movement
  • avoid harsh laxatives
  • avoid strong soaps

How are hemorrhoids treated?

With the exception of surgery, no treatment can cure hemorrhoids. However, their symptoms can be relieved or at least decreased while you wait for them to go away. Hemorrhoids can relapse at a later time when conditions are favorable.

Ointments can be used to relieve some of the discomfort associated with hemorrhoids. Some ointments numb the area and relieve all sensation of pain while others only relieve itching. Several products on the market actually contain only lubricants and no active ingredients! There is also a plastic device available (Anurex™): it is kept frozen and inserted in the anus, relieving pain by numbing the region.

Prescription products often contain a cortisone derivative designed to decrease swelling and accelerate the healing process.

In general, suppositories should be avoided: they are usually ineffective.

Sometimes a fecal emollient can be used to relieve constipation, which causes hemorrhoids, or to reduce pain with bowel movements caused by hemorrhoids. These products, available in tablets or capsules, soften the stools making them less painful to eliminate. People who suffer from hemorrhoids often feel better if they take warm sitz baths. Use a doughnut-shaped cushion when sitting is too painful. In general, pain associated with hemorrhoids lasts only a few days and resolves by itself. Consult your physician if pain persists for more than a few days or is very unpleasant.

Relief from hemorrhoid symptoms is available. Ask your pharmacist to recommend the best product for your condition. In serious cases, see your doctor, who will prescribe a more potent product.

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