It’s estimated that about half of all adults suffer from hemorrhoids—varicose veins of the rectum. Fortunately, the uncomfortable condition can be easily avoided and effectively treated.
A hemorrhoid is a blood-filled vein in the lower rectum. Pressure on rectal vessels caused by constipation or heavy lifting can cause a vein to protrude. Standing, sitting or resting on the toilet for a long time after a bowel movement can also trigger the condition. Pregnant and obese women are at risk for hemorrhoids because of uterine pressure on the rectum.
There are three types of hemorrhoids: internal, prolapsed and external. Internal hemorrhoids may only present themselves as traces of blood on toilet tissue. This happens when straining caused by passing stool opens the vein and causes bleeding.
Prolapsed hemorrhoids are pushed through the anal opening by intense straining. These may cause a constant ache or can itch and bleed.
External hemorrhoids are the most uncomfortable because a painful clot may form in the affected vein, causing it to itch, burn or bleed.
Keeping constipation at bay is a critical step in hemorrhoid prevention and relief. To keep stools soft, exercise regularly and eat plenty of fiber. Fiber-rich foods include fresh fruits and vegetables (preferably uncooked and unpeeled); whole-grain products; and dried beans, peas and fruit.
As you wait for your fiber-packed diet to take effect, try these suggestions for relief:
- Take a warm sitz bath (a bath taken in a sitting posture) twice a day.
- Apply witch-hazel soaks or ice packs to the hemorrhoid.
- Use topical medications or suppositories (ask us for a prescription remedy).
- Keep the area between the vagina and rectum (the perineum) clean. Try washing with warm water after a bowel movement.
- Use an inflatable seat cushion if sitting is painful.
- Sleep on your side to relieve pressure on rectal veins.
When standard treatment isn’t successful, doctors can remove an internal hemorrhoid by cutting off its circulation. Called rubber band ligation, the process requires the placement of small rubber bands around the base of the hemorrhoid. A week or so later, the hemorrhoid drops off. Or, in a procedure called sclerotherapy, doctors may inject a chemical into the surrounding blood vessel to shrink the hemorrhoid. Both internal and external hemorrhoids can be treated by applying electrical or laser heat to “burn” the hemorrhoid off. In severe cases, doctors can perform a hemorrhoidectomy, a surgical procedure that permanently removes the hemorrhoid.