Having a hemorrhoid flare-up can be more of a minor annoyance than a major medical event, but it’s still just that — annoying. The good news is that hemorrhoids aren’t a condition that you just have to live with.
The National Institutes of Health report that about half of people over the age of 50 have hemorrhoids. Fortunately, according to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons most of these can be treated without surgery.
Hemorrhoids occur when veins become swollen and inflamed, similar to a varicose vein. Exterior hemorrhoids occur around your anus and interior hemorrhoids occur inside your lower rectum. Hemorrhoids may be painful or itchy and some may bleed.
Common causes of hemorrhoids include straining while having a bowel movement, frequent bowel movements, chronic diarrhea or constipation, a low-fiber diet, obesity and pregnancy. Sitting for long periods of time on the toilet can also contribute toward hemorrhoids so it’s best to avoid extended time on the commode with a cell phone or other reading material!
“Hemorrhoids are actually fairly common but usually go away within a week with proper care at home,” said Brittany Houston, DO, a resident physician at Samaritan Internal Medicine – Corvallis. “The key is not to ignore the symptoms and start self-care right away. First-line treatments like changing your diet, fluid intake and bowel habits are especially important.”
Houston recommends these six home remedies to help ease hemorrhoids.
- Eat more fiber. Not getting enough fiber can lead to constipation and keep hemorrhoids from healing. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends getting 28 grams of fiber a day. High-fiber cereal (up to 11g), whole grains (6g in ¼ cup of barley), apples (4g) and pears (6g) with the skin on, vegetables (9g in 1 cup of squash) and legumes (8g in ½ cup of lentils or black beans) are all excellent sources of fiber. If you aren’t getting enough fiber in your diet, consider a supplement like Metamucil or Citrucel.
- Drink water. Drink eight to 10 glasses of fluids a day, preferably water, to help keep stools soft. This is especially important to avoid constipation as you increase the fiber in your diet.
- Don’t strain. When you have a bowel movement, don’t try to hold your breath, push or strain unnecessarily. Go to the bathroom immediately when you have the urge, as waiting can cause the stool to become dry and hard. Sitting on the toilet for too long can also irritate hemorrhoids.
- Exercise. Getting active can help reduce constipation. Since sitting for long periods of time can aggravate hemorrhoids, regular activity can ensure you are moving around for part of the day and may also help with weight loss if your hemorrhoids are due to excess weight.
- Take a sitz bath. A sitz bath is when you soak just your bottom in water. Take a sitz bath with plain warm water for 15 to 20 minutes, two or three times a day and after you have a bowel movement. Gently pat your bottom dry. Pharmacy and home medical supply companies often sell small sitz bath bowls that fit over the toilet, or just fill the bathtub with a few inches of water, enough to cover your anus.
- Use over-the-counter treatments. Hemorrhoid creams, wipes and suppositories can all help relieve pain, swelling and itching and allow the hemorrhoids to heal.
If you aren’t feeling better within one week of active at-home treatment, make an appointment with your doctor.
Houston recommends talking to your doctor immediately if there is blood when you have a bowel movement — either in the toilet or when you wipe, especially if you are older than 40. Your doctor will want to rule out other conditions such as an anal fissure, colon cancer or a bowel disease like ulcerative colitis.
“Hemorrhoids can be very disruptive to quality of life but they react well to treatment,” said Houston. “It’s not anything to be embarrassed to talk to your doctor about.”
Samaritan Medical Supplies offer a wide variety of helpful advice and medical supplies including sitz bath kits.