Have you ever had hemorrhoids? If so, you know just how uncomfortable or even painful they can be! How can you resolve this issue?
What are hemorrhoids exactly?
Hemorrhoids are caused by the swelling or displacement of tissue located in the anus and rectum. Although they can be painful and uncomfortable, hemorrhoids are usually not serious.
Internal hemorrhoids are located inside the rectum. They generally do not cause pain since this area does not have sensory nerves.
External hemorrhoids are located under the skin, very close to the anal aperture. They can swell, itch and be very painful, especially during a bowel movement. When hemorrhoids are external and cannot be pushed back inside, a medical consultation is necessary.
Mixed hemorrhoids are a combination of internal and external hemorrhoids.
What are the causes or risk factors of hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids can occur at any age, but they appear more frequently between the ages of 45 and 65. In younger people, they mostly occur in pregnant women or those who have just given birth. More than 50% of North Americans have or have had hemorrhoids.
The exact cause is not known, but there are several contributing factors to their onset. Therefore, you are more at risk of suffering from hemorrhoids if:
- you are constipated or strain when passing stool
- your diet lacks fibre
- you are pregnant or have given birth
- you frequently lift heavy loads
- you remain seated for long periods
- you are obese
How do you recognize hemorrhoids?
The signs and symptoms caused by hemorrhoids include:
- pain or burning sensation, especially with external hemorrhoids
- mild bleeding
What measures can be taken to prevent or ease symptoms?
- Prevent or relieve constipation. Increase your fluid and fibre intake (fruits and vegetables, for example). If your hemorrhoids are not serious, these dietary changes may be enough. If nutrition is not enough to relieve constipation, try a fibre supplement with an adequate intake of fluids or a stool softener such as sodium docusate.
- Avoid straining during defecation or remaining seated on the toilet for a long time.
- If your hemorrhoids are outside of the anus, cold compresses can reduce inflammation.
- Take a sitz bath in warm water (about 40ºC) for roughly 10 to 15 minutes, three or four times a day, to relieve the pain associated with hemorrhoids.
- Do not remain seated for long periods. Take short walks, get up and stretch at regular intervals.
- Sit on an eggshell-type cushion. Avoid donut-shaped cushions, as they increase pressure in the rectal and anal regions, worsening hemorrhoids.
- Avoid activities that require lifting heavy loads.
- Avoid foods known to cause hemorrhoids such as spicy foods, nuts, coffee and alcohol.
- Lose weight if necessary.
Which products can help relieve and treat the problem?
There are a number of effective over-the-counter products that you can use to relieve symptoms and treat hemorrhoids:
- Witch hazel pads help to relieve the discomfort, burning sensation and itching caused by hemorrhoids.
- Local anesthetics relieve the pain temporarily but quickly.
- Astringent agents protect the affected area from irritation, decrease inflammation, and relieve burning sensation and itching.
- Protective agents form a barrier on the skin and decrease inflammation.
- Anti-inflammatory agents relieve itchiness and reduce inflammation of external hemorrhoids.
- Moist wipes can be used after each bowel movement to clean the affected area and avoid infections.
- If the pain is too uncomfortable, analgesics such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can provide relief and be used as a complement to topical medications. Speak to your pharmacist for advice before using them, as these products may not be suitable for you.
Hemorrhoids can potentially lead to more serious complications like significant bleeding, infection or thrombosis. See your doctor if such problems arise or if hemorrhoids last more than seven days.
Don’t hesitate to speak to your pharmacist if you have any questions about the prevention and treatment of hemorrhoids.