Hemorrhoids are painful, nasty, and, uh, well, hard to talk about. But they’re actually quite common: around half of people over 50 have had them. However, they are easy to deal with and manage.
“Hemorrhoids can be bothersome and embarrassing, but they often go away on their own with simple personal care 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 are rectal pain, itching, bleeding, and occasional protruding veins outside the anus.
There are two types of hemorrhoids: internal and external. You can have either type on its own, or both at the same time.
Internal hemorrhoids. These form inside the anal canal and are usually painless. However, they can cause intermittent bleeding with stools and sometimes mucus discharge. Internal hemorrhoids can also protrude outside the anus and look like small, grapelike-shaped masses.
External hemorrhoids. These form just outside the anal opening and can cause swelling, protrusion, and discomfort.
Why do hemorrhoids occur?
Sometimes hemorrhoids grow for no reason, but they are often associated with chronic constipation or diarrhea, straining during a bowel movement, and prolonged sitting on the toilet. You can reduce your risk by following these three simple steps:
- Get enough fiber in your diet (guidelines suggest 14 grams per 1000 calories)
- Stay well hydrated (drink six to eight glasses of water per day)
- Exercise regularly (aim for 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week).
Are There Natural Treatments For Hemorrhoids?
First of all, the very good news: Neither type of hemorrhoid is dangerous, and serious complications requiring medical attention are rare. Symptoms can often be relieved by trying some natural, self-healing treatments.
- Draw a sitz 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. 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, helping to reduce hemorrhoid bleeding and inflammation. A psyllium husk fiber supplement, such as Metamucil or a generic version, is a good choice. If psyllium is causing gas or bloating, try a supplement with wheat dextrin (Benefiber) or methylcellulose (Citrucel).
- Relieve the discomfort. Apply over-the-counter products that reduce inflamed tissue and relieve itching. Try witch hazel-infused tampons (Tucks) or soothing creams that contain lidocaine, hydrocortisone, or phenylephrine (Preparation H).
You can also take steps to prevent flare-ups.
- Do not be too long. Delaying a bowel movement can cause a bowel movement to move backwards, causing increased pressure and strain, which makes your hemorrhoids worse.
- Sit well. Try not to sit on the toilet for long periods; this tends to make hemorrhoids grow and swell. One way to speed things up is to elevate your feet with a stepladder when you sit down. This changes the position of your rectum to allow easier passage of stool. Plus, using a cushion under you when sitting in a chair or on a hard surface can help ease the swelling.
- Keep it clean. After each bowel movement, gently clean your anal area with a witch hazel swab, a soothing baby wipe, or a cotton cloth soaked in lukewarm water. If you have any irritation afterwards, apply petroleum jelly or aloe vera gel.