Coping With Hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids affect millions of people each year. For some—particularly those who are overweight, are pregnant, or have digestive disorders like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)—the problem can become so unrelenting it turns all-consuming. Taking a holistic approach to care with the aim of reducing the immediate pain and inflammation, while gently easing bowel movements to prevent straining and recurrence can go a long way in helping you cope.

Physical

Two of the most helpful things you can do to help your body help itself when it comes to hemorrhoids are making stools easier to pass and keeping the affected area clean.

Lubricate Your Stools

A high-fiber diet is a great long-term solution for constipation. But for more immediate relief, you can help lubricate your stools by mixing a tablespoon or two of mineral oil with a four- to eight-ounce glass of prune juice. Even if you are heavily constipated, avoid taking more than one dose per day, as this can cause watery stools.

Even more importantly, keep well hydrated by drinking at least eight large glasses of water per day (or roughly a half gallon). Avoid coffee, alcohol, and caffeinated drinks, which can dry out the stool and can cause excessive urination.

Get Things Moving

Some people also find relief by using an enema bag or douche ball purchased from the drugstore for between $10 and $15. By gently filling the rectum with warm water, you can ease out even hard, pebbly stools. Be careful not to overfill the rectum, as this can stretch already-inflamed tissues.

If you have an internal hemorrhoid, you need to take extra care and use a water-based lubricant to ease the nozzle into the rectum. (Never use a moisturizing cream or lotion, which can sting and cause irritation.)

Always be sure to thoroughly wash an enema bag or douche ball, inside and out, between uses (or dispose of them as directed).

Practice Good Anal Hygiene

It is essential to keep your rectal area clean, particularly after a bowel movement. If you have multiple or severely inflamed hemorrhoids, you can buy a perianal irrigation bottle from the drugstore for around $10 or use any clean, squeezable bottle you have on hand (such as sports water bottle).

Squirting warm water on the affected area not only helps clean the skin but has a comforting, therapeutic effect. You can then follow up by dabbing the anus with a moist towelette or flushable baby wipe until thoroughly clean.

When bathing or showering, avoid deodorant soaps or harsh cleansers, which can irritate and dry the skin. If anything, just wash the anal area gently with plain water either by splashing or using a shower hose attachment.

Afterward, dab the skin dry and apply some aloe vera gel directly onto the hemorrhoid with a cotton ball. Pure vitamin E oil or coconut oil can also be helpful, moisturizing and alleviating inflammation all at the same time. Avoid cream or lotions containing these oils as they can be irritating.

Practical

Making changes to your daily routine and incorporating new practices can also help you ease discomfort, both in the bathroom and out.

Take a Sitz Bath

sitz bath is a practical solution that can help ease hemorrhoidal pain, itchiness, and inflammation.

The bath itself is a plastic tub you can purchase at the drugstore for around $10. It fits over the toilet bowl and can be filled with warm water and other ingredients such as Epsom salt, witch hazel, or baking soda. The mere act of sitting in warm water help tempers the body's inflammatory response and reduce the localized swelling and pain.

Always clean the sitz bath, ideally with a solution of two tablespoons of bleach to a half gallon of water, and rinse it well before use. Be sure to fill the tub with warm, not hot, water and soak for 15 to 20 minutes only to prevent oversaturation of the skin.

A sitz bath can also be performed in the bathtub. When finished, gently dab the anal area with a soft cloth until dry.

Use an Ice Pack

In the same way that an ice pack can reduce inflammation caused by a sports injury, an ice pack placed on a hemorrhoid can reduce the acute swelling of hemorrhoidal veins.

The trick with ice packs is to never place them directly on bare skin or leave them in one place for too long. Doing so can cause frostbite and may damage underlying skin tissue.

Instead, place a clean washcloth or kitchen towel between the ice pack and your skin and leave it there for no longer than 15 minutes. While it's OK for the skin to feel a little numb, you should remove the pack if you start feeling a sharp, prickly sensation.

If you don't have an ice pack handy, a pack of frozen peas wrapped in a towel can also do the trick.

Sit Comfortably

How you sit has a big effect on how well you recover from a bout of hemorrhoids.

Consider for a moment what happens when you sit on a hard surface. The pressure exerted on the gluteal muscles of the buttocks can cause them to spread out and stretch. This, in turn, stretches the tissues of the anal and rectal (anorectal) areas, causing already-swollen veins to bulge even farther. If you are prone to hemorrhoids, sitting in a hard chair for long periods of time can even trigger the condition.

Do yourself a favor and either get a soft pillow or inflatable "donut" cushion to sit on. The latter, in particular, helps consolidate, rather than stretch, anorectal tissues and can be found at most drugstores for around $10.

Change Position on the Toilet

When you are on the toilet, consider raising your feet with a step stool. By elevating your knees above your hips, you alter the angle of your rectum and provide stools a more direct route out of the body.

Also, avoid sitting on the toilet for a long time if you have constipation. The wide opening of the seat promotes anorectal stress and can make your hemorrhoids far worse. Instead, get up and move around to help stimulate the bowels, or, better yet, take a long walk around the block.

Sources:

Sun, Z. and Migaly, J. "Review of Hemorrhoid Disease: Presentation and Management.Clin Colon Rectal Surg. 2016; 29(1):22-29. DOI: 10.1055/s-0035-1568144.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders (NDDKD). "Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for Hemorrhoids: What should I eat if I have hemorrhoids?" Bethesda, Maryland; October 2016.