Hemorrhoids are painful, uncomfortable, and difficult to discuss. But they’re actually quite common: around half of those over 50 have had them. However, they are easy to handle and manage.
“Hemorrhoids can be bothersome and embarrassing, but they often shrink on their own with simple self-help and over-the-counter remedies,” says Dr. Howard LeWine, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
What are hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids are swollen veins near the anus. Common symptoms include rectal pain, itching, bleeding, and occasionally protruding veins outside the anus.
There are two types of hemorrhoids: internal and external. You can enter either your own type or both at the same time.
Internal hemorrhoids. These form in the anal canal and are usually painless. However, they can cause intermittent bleeding with bowel movements and sometimes shed mucus. Internal hemorrhoids can also protrude outside the anus and look like small, grapel-like masses.
External hemorrhoids. These form just outside the anal opening and can cause swelling, protrusions and discomfort.
Why do hemorrhoids occur?
Sometimes hemorrhoids develop for no reason, but often they are associated with chronic constipation or diarrhea, straining during bowel movements, and prolonged toilet sessions. You can reduce your risk by following three simple steps:
- Get enough fiber in your diet (guidelines recommend 14 grams per 1,000 calories)
- Stay well hydrated (drink six to eight glasses of water daily)
- Exercise regularly (aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity per week).
Are There Natural Treatments For Hemorrhoids?
First, some very good news: Neither type of hemorrhoids is dangerous, and serious complications that require medical attention are rare. Symptoms can often be relieved with a few natural and self-nursing treatments.
- Draw a hip bath. To relieve itching and irritation, fill a tub with three to four inches of warm (not hot) water and sit in it with your knees bent for about 10 to 15 minutes. Gently pat yourself dry with a towel, but do not rub the area.
- Take fiber supplements. These draw water into your stool and make it easier to pass through, reducing hemorrhoid bleeding and inflammation. A psyllium husk fiber additive like Metamucil or a generic version is a good choice. If psyllium is causing gas or bloating, try a wheat dextrin (Benefiber) or methyl cellulose (Citrucel) supplement.
- Relieve discomfort. Apply over-the-counter products that shrink the inflamed tissue and relieve itching. Try pods with witch hazel (tucks) or soothing creams that contain lidocaine, hydrocortisone, or phenylephrine (preparation H).
You can also take steps to prevent flickering.
- Do not hesitate. Stopping bowel movements can cause the stool to pull back, causing increased pressure and overexertion, which makes your hemorrhoids worse.
- Sit down correctly. Try not to sit on the toilet for long. This causes hemorrhoids to squeeze out and swell. One way to speed things up is to use a step stool to lift your feet while sitting. This will change the position of your rectum to make bowel movements easier. Using a pillow under you when you are sitting in a chair or hard surface can reduce the swelling.
- Keep it clean. After each bowel movement, carefully clean your anal area with a witch hazel pad, a soothing baby towel, or a cotton towel soaked in warm water. If you experience any irritation afterward, apply petroleum jelly or aloe vera gel.