What are hemorrhoids exactly?
Hemorrhoids are caused by swelling or a movement of tissues located in the anus and rectum. Although they can be painful and uncomfortable, hemorrhoids are usually not dangerous.
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 the 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?
You can suffer from hemorrhoids 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 women who have just given birth. More than 50% of North Americans suffer or have suffered from hemorrhoids.
The exact cause is unknown, but many factors contribute to their development. Thus, 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 stay seated for long periods of time
- you are obese
What are the symptoms associated with hemorrhoids?
Symptoms caused by hemorrhoids include:
- pain or burning sensation, especially with external hemorrhoids
- light bleeding
How to relieve your symptoms?
- Prevent or relieve constipation. Increase your liquid and fibre intake (fruits and vegetables, for example). If your hemorrhoids are not serious, these dietary changes may be enough. If these foods aren’t enough to relieve your symptoms, try a fibre supplement mixed with a sufficient amount of water or a stool softener such as sodium docusate.
- Avoid straining during defecation, or staying seated on the toilet for a long time.
- If your hemorrhoids came out of the anus, cold compresses can reduce inflammation.
- Take a sit bath in lukewarm water (around 40ºC) for about 10 to 15 minutes, three or four times a day, to relieve the pain associated with hemorrhoids.
- Do not stay seated for long periods of time. Take short walks, get up and stretch at regular intervals.
- Sit on an eggshell-type cushion. Avoid donut-shaped cushions, as they put pressure on the rectal and anal regions and aggravate 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.
What medications relieve and treat the problem?
There are a number of effective, over-the-counter products that you can use to relieve your symptoms and treat your hemorrhoids:
- Witch hazel pads help to relieve the discomfort, burning sensation and itching caused by hemorrhoids;
- Local anesthetics relieve the pain temporarily but rapidly;
- Astringent agents protect the affected area from irritation, decrease inflammation, and relieve burning and itching sensations;
- Protective agents form a barrier on the skin and decrease inflammation;
- Anti-inflammatory agents relieve itchiness and reduce inflammation of external hemorrhoids;
- Wet 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 excessive bleeding, infection or thrombosis. If such problems arise, or if the hemorrhoids last more than seven days, see your doctor.
Don’t hesitate to ask your pharmacist if you have any questions on the prevention and treatment of hemorrhoids.