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How to Keep Your Hemorrhoids Happy

6 ways to treat hemorrhoids at home, plus how to prevent them


spinner image a man sitting on a toilet reading his smart phone
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Do you sit on the toilet scrolling through your phone or reading the newspaper?

It may seem like a harmless habit, but it increases your risk of hemorrhoids, says Neha Mathur, M.D., a gastroenterologist with the Underwood Center for Digestive Disorders at Houston Methodist. 

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“The worst thing nowadays is technology,” she says. “Reading your phone in there, that’s what everybody does. I tell people, ‘Poop and get off.’”

The term “hemorrhoids” technically refers to the blood vessels in your anal canal, which everyone has and are normal, Mathur says. But when most people talk about hemorrhoids, they typically mean an uncomfortable condition in which those blood vessels are swollen or inflamed.

Prolonged toilet time can increase pressure to the area and cause the internal rectal canal to slip out of position, making hemorrhoids more likely, Mathur explains. One study published in the journal The Lancet found that patients with hemorrhoids spent more time during defecation and reading on the toilet than a control group.

Hemorrhoids are especially common among older adults, partly because anal tissue weakens with age. About half of adults older than age 50 have the condition, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Kidney Disease.

What causes hemorrhoids?

There are two types of hemorrhoids: internal hemorrhoids, which develop inside the rectum, and external hemorrhoids, which create lumps or bulges around the anus.

Both are caused by increased pressure or irritation to the area, experts say.

“The major thing that makes hemorrhoids worse is high pressure, things like lifting heavy weights at the gym or straining while having a bowel movement,” says Andrew Boxer, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Gastroenterology Associates of New Jersey. Pregnancy and childbirth are common causes of hemorrhoids in people under age 40. In older adults, prolonged toilet time and straining are often to blame.

Chronic constipation or diarrhea makes hemorrhoids more likely. Smoking, being overweight and having high blood pressure are also linked to a higher risk.

Symptoms of hemorrhoids

When hemorrhoids are inflamed, they can be painful, itchy or bleeding, Boxer says. Common symptoms of hemorrhoids include:

  • Bleeding during bowel movements: You may notice small amounts of bright red blood on the toilet paper or in the toilet bowl, says Ekta Gupta, M.D., a gastroenterologist and associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University. (Note: Never assume blood in your stool is hemorrhoids. It can also be a cancer symptom, so it’s important to be evaluated.)
  • Pain, discomfort or itching: Some patients complain of pain in the anal area while sitting. Or you may “feel like something is there and you can’t get it out,” Mathur says.
  • Lumps in the anal region: These are the dilating or bulging veins that characterize external hemorrhoids. They are often painful.
  • Minor fecal incontinence: Some patients with hemorrhoids report mucus discharge or mild leakage of stools, Mathur says. “You may see a streak in your underwear or stool and think, I thought I cleaned myself at end of that bowel movement.”
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6 ways to treat hemorrhoids at home

If you have hemorrhoids, lifestyle changes can often make a difference. Mathur says about 75 to 80 percent of her patients find relief by taking the following steps:

1. Boost your fiber intake

Take a daily fiber supplement and try to consume more fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Fiber “softens the stool and increases its bulk, which will help you avoid the straining,” Gupta says. She recommends adding fiber to your diet slowly to avoid problems with gas.

2. Drink more water

Increasing your fluid intake helps to soften hard stools, another way to reduce straining. (If you have a heart condition, talk to your health care provider before you increase your fluid intake.) 

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3. Soak the area

Use a little water in the bathtub or try a sitz bath using a special bowl that fits over the toilet. Mathur recommends adding Epsom salt. Gently pat the area dry or use a hair dryer.

4. Use over-the-counter treatments

To ease discomfort, apply over-the-counter hemorrhoid cream or try a suppository containing hydrocortisone, Gupta suggests. You can also pick up pads containing witch hazel or another numbing agent.

5. Ditch dry toilet paper

Dry toilet paper can irritate an already sensitive area. Instead, use wet toilet paper or wipes that don’t contain perfume or alcohol. Another option: a bidet sprayer that attaches to your toilet.

6. Change your toilet habits

If you’ve been sitting on the toilet for five minutes and you haven’t had bowel movement, get off the toilet and try again later. (A toilet timer can tell you when time’s up.) Some patients find it helpful to use a stool that fits around the base of the toilet to improve the angle of the anal rectal canal, making it easier to defecate, Mathur says.

When to see a doctor

Concerning symptoms that should prompt a visit to a specialist include any type of bleeding, increasing pain or a significant change in your bowel habits.

“We want to rule out any type of cancer,” Mathur says. “Blood is not normal. People say, ‘I saw blood and I thought it was my hemorrhoids,’ and then they end up having rectal cancer.”

You should also seek medical help if home remedies don’t bring relief after a few days.

Your doctor can prescribe medications, creams and suppositories to help get things moving and relieve symptoms. For some patients, pelvic floor physical therapy can also help.

If you have internal hemorrhoids, your doctor may recommend an in-office procedure called rubber band ligation, in which an elastic band is placed around the hemorrhoid that causes it to shrink and then disappear.

Other treatments for hemorrhoids include injecting them with a special sclerosant solution or using infrared light or a low electric current to shrink or destroy hemorrhoidal tissue. Surgical removal is another option.

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