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What are hemorrhoids?

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Hemorrhoids are masses of dilated veins in anal region. Hemorrhoids can be either exterior (along the opening of the anus) or internal (inside the rectum). Hemorrhoids can be painful, itchy or asymptomatic. Some hemorrhoids bleed. About half of the people in the U.S. will suffer from hemorrhoids at some point in life; for most, this will happen between ages 20 and 50. Researchers are not certain what causes hemorrhoids (they have several theories, none of which has been proven).

How can I treat hemorrhoids?

  • Try not to sit for hours at a time, but if you must, take breaks: Once every hour, get up and move around for at least five minutes. A doughnut-shaped cushion can make sitting more comfortable and ease hemorrhoid pressure and pain.
  • Insert ky jelly (or some other water-based lubricant) just inside the anus to make bowel movements less painful.
  • Dab witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), a soothing anti-inflammatory agent, on irritated hemorrhoids to reduce pain and itching.
  • Resist the temptation to scratch hemorrhoids, as it makes everything worse: The inflamed veins become more irritated, the skin around them becomes damaged, and the itching itself intensifies. Instead, to help stop the itching, apply an over-the-counter 0.5 percent hydrocortisone cream to the skin (not inside the anus — on the outside only) and a cold pack. You might try over-the-counter hemorrhoidal creams for relief from itching.
  • If you need a pain reliever, try acetaminophen (in products like Tylenol). Avoid ibuprofen and aspirin, which can foster bleeding.
  • Bathe regularly to keep the anal area clean, but be gentle: Excessive scrubbing, especially with soap, can intensify burning and irritation.
  • Don’t sit on the toilet for more than five minutes at a time, and when wiping, be gentle. If toilet paper is irritating, try dampening it first, or use cotton balls or alcohol-free baby wipes. You may prefer washing yourself and then dabbing the area dry.
  • When performing any task that requires exertion, be sure to breathe evenly. It’s common to hold your breath during exertion, and if you do, you’re straining, and contributing to hemorrhoid pain and bleeding.
  • It’s obvious to point out that a open or actively bleeding hemorrhoid provide a great port of entry for bugs, STD’s and HIV. Avoiding anal intercourse while hemorrhoids are acting up is advisable.

How can I prevent hemorrhoids?

  • Eat a diet high in “dietary fiber”… fruits (the kind you buy at the grocery store not at the bar), vegetables, whole wheat and whole grains. Generally, the darker a fruit or vegetable the more fiber it has in it.
  • Empty the bowels as soon as you feel the urge to do so. Also avoid sitting on the toilet for prolonged periods (more than five minutes) and avoid straining during a bowel movement.
  • Get regular exercise and keep your weight in check.

What should I call my doctor about hemorrhoids?

You should consult a physician anytime you experience anal bleeding for the first time, even if you believe you have hemorrhoids. Colon polyps, colitis, Crohn’s disease and colorectal cancer can also cause anal bleeding. An accurate diagnosis is essential. You should also see a doctor if you have been diagnosed with hemorrhoids, and you have anal bleeding that is chronic (daily or weekly) or more profuse than the occasional streaking. Though rare, excessive hemorrhoidal bleeding can cause anemia.

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