Hemorrhoids: An embarrassing or distasteful topic for many. Understandably! The end stage of digestion is a subject few wish to discuss. However, the National Institute of Health calculates that 75% of Americans have hemorrhoids at least once in their life1. My own clinical experience confirms this statistic — so hemorrhoids are indeed a topic worth discussing.
Hemorrhoids are swollen and inflamed veins in the lower part of the rectum or anus. They may result from straining during bowel movements or from the increased pressure on these veins during pregnancy.
Internal hemorrhoids are located inside the rectum, or they may develop under the skin around the anus (external hemorrhoids). Symptoms include:
- Painless bleeding during bowel movements. There may be small amounts of bright red blood on your toilet tissue or in the toilet bowl
- Itching or irritation in your anal region
- Pain or discomfort
- Swelling around your anus, which may be sensitive or painful
Excessive sitting – at work or at home – is associated with hemorrhoids. Preventing or eliminating hemorrhoids is yet another good reason to get up of the couch and go for a walk or to take a stroll at lunchtime during the work week. Exercise helps prevent constipation. Be careful to choose workouts that do not involve excessive muscle straining, such as weight lifting. These activities can exacerbate your condition.
Add fiber and fluid to your diet. A diet high in fatty foods and low in fruit and vegetables does not provide sufficient fiber – necessary for normal bowel movements. If you are a woman, strive to consume 25 grams of fiber each day. Men require nearly 40 grams to for optimal digestive health2. The NIH provides a handy list of fiber-rich foods here.
If you need to manage the discomfort and itching around the anus often associated with inflammation, witch hazel compresses, ointment or medicated pads often provide relief.
Also, the major bioflavonoids found in citrus fruits may be beneficial3. They can reduce anal pain and discharge during an acute hemorrhoid flare-up. Side effects flavonoids appear to be rare and mild – promising treatments for pregnant women suffering from hemorrhoids.
If you have hemorrhoids, please consult your physician. Fortunately, simple diet and lifestyle changes often reduce the swelling and discomfort and relieve symptoms.
If at-home treatments do not relieve symptoms, medical treatments may be needed
If your hemorrhoid symptoms are associated with a marked change in bowel habits or if you are passing black, tarry or maroon stools, blood clots, or blood mixed in with stool, consult your primary care physician immediately. These types of stools can be associated with more complex issues in your digestive tract.
3MacKay D., Hemorrhoids and varicose veins: a review of treatment options. Altern Med Rev. 2001 Apr;6(2):126-40.