Hemorrhoids, also known as piles, are a familiar disorder, and usually not a serious one. It’s thought that 75 percent of Americans will have them at some time in their lives. The tissue of the anus and rectum is a cushion of blood vessels, connective tissue, and muscle. A hemorrhoid is an inflammation or enlargement of the veins in this tissue, caused by excess pressure in the anal or abdominal area. Most people can tell if they have external hemorrhoids. These develop from veins around the edge of the anus, and are often felt as hard, itchy, tender lumps that are likely to be painful at times. If the veins rupture, bleeding also occurs. The majority of hemorrhoids, however, are internal, developing an inch or more above the anus. Usually they cannot be seen or felt, and so often go undetected until they bleed. In some cases, an internal hemorrhoid can also prolapse—it falls through the anal opening and forms a protruding mass that may be painful and itchy.
A prolapsed hemorrhoid can slip back into the rectum or can be moved back in with gentle pressure from a finger. External hemorrhoids may be accompanied by anal itching, bleeding and pain upon defecation. There may also be a discharge of mucus from the anus. Prolapsed hemorrhoids are often painful and symptoms include moist swelling of skin protruding outside the anal opening. It used to be said that constipation was the chief cause, however, doctors are not so sure. Still, excess pressure in the anal area can promote hemorrhoids.
That’s why habitually intense or straining while moving your bowels can promote or aggravate hemorrhoids. Other possible contributors to hemorrhoids include eating a low-fiber diet, being overweight and being sedentary. Lifting heavy objects can cause hemorrhoids, as it increases the pressure on the internal rectal veins. In some cases, anal sex can cause hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids are more of a nuisance than anything else and are rarely a serious risk to health. With proper care, pain or bleeding from an external hemorrhoid resolves itself very quickly in most cases.
If you can withstand the pain and itching, the hemorrhoids may eventually diminish so living with them becomes tolerable. But when you do notice the bleeding for the first time, you should get a doctor’s opinion. Probably it’s only a hemorrhoid, but in a very small number of cases, rectal bleeding may be the first sign of serious gastrointestinal disease, including cancer. Home Remedies for Hemorrhoids If a doctor has confirmed that you do have hemorrhoids, there may be no need for medical treatment. The following measures can ease the discomfort of hemorrhoids if you have them. Don’t strain or hold your breath on the toilet. Keep the anal area clean, but avoid using rough toilet paper. Gently wipe with wet paper or premoistened wipes. For painful hemorrhoids, try warm-water sitz baths two or three times daily, in a squatting position.
For convenience you can buy a plastic sitz-bath seat that fits over the toilet rim. Apply zinc oxide paste or powder or petroleum jelly to ease defecation and soothe itching. Be careful of relying on certain over-the-counter hemorrhoid remedies such as Preparation H—these can be damaging to anal tissue, especially with prolonged use. Try cold compresses or ice packs several times a day. These can help reduce both inflammation and discomfort. Wear cotton underwear and loose clothing.
Be careful of what you eat. Some people find that certain foods and beverages aggravate hemorrhoids. Prime offenders may include nuts, red pepper, mustard, regular and decaffeinated coffee, and alcohol. You can try eliminating foods that seem to be making matters worse. Over-the-Counter Remedies Many people rely on over-the-counter preparations to relieve inflammation and pain from external hemorrhoids. The most useful ingredients in many of these products are likely to be zinc oxide or petroleum jelly—both of which cost less if bought on their own. These ingredients can irritate the skin, so pick a product specifically for hemorrhoids. Such products can also be damaging to anal tissue, especially with prolonged use. Limit use of any over-the-counter product to seven days, and do not use any of these products on bleeding hemorrhoids.
If symptoms persist, call your doctor. Prevention Though hemorrhoids may not be avoidable in all cases, you can do many things to prevent them from developing. Fruits, whole grains, and vegetables form the base of a well-balanced diet, and this helps produce soft but formed, regular bowel movements. The increased fecal bulk is easily eliminated without straining the hemorrhoidal veins. Drinking 8 to 10 glasses a day will help ease bowel movements. Laxatives frequently cause diarrhea, which can be as rough on the hemorrhoids as the straining associated with constipation.
Avoid sitting or standing for long periods. If your job is sedentary and you must sit for long periods, stand up now and then and take a short walk. If you have to stand for long stretches of time, you may stress your rectal veins. Sit or lie down for brief periods whenever possible. Excess pounds increase pressure and cause hemorrhoids. Daily exercise improves circulation, prevents constipation, helps prevent hemorrhoids from developing, and aids in the shrinkage of existing hemorrhoids. Abdominal strain can increase pressure on the rectal-anal veins.
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