by Kimberly Allen, RN
Hemorrhoids, a condition frequently associated with pregnancy is actually more common than people think. Approximately 10 million Americans suffer with hemorrhoids, but it’s hard to say exactly how many because most people don’t report them to their Dr or healthcare provider. However, Experts believe at least half of Americans will have symptomatic hemorrhoids in their lifetime. Despite the belief that it’s a condition that affects pregnant women hemorrhoids affect both men and women equally, though they are more common in Caucasians then other groups. Hemorrhoids tend to affect people between 45 and 65 years of age, however, they can occur at any age.
Hemorrhoids are rarely serious, however they can be uncomfortable. So exactly what are hemorrhoids? They are blood vessels in your anal canal that become swollen. There are two types of hemorrhoids, internal and external. Internal hemorrhoids are those that originate at the top of the anal canal and those that develop in the lower end of the anal canal near the anus are called external hemorrhoids.
Hemorrhoids are caused by too much pressure being exerted on the blood vessels in the anal canal. The blood vessels in the anal canal normally fill with blood in order to control bowel movements. However, when there is increased pressure the blood vessels and surrounding tissue swells and stretches leading to the development of hemorrhoids. There are a variety of things other than pregnancy that can lead to the development of hemorrhoids include either diarrhea or constipation. Obesity is also a common cause of hemorrhoids because the weight increases the constant pressure on the anal area. People that sit for long periods of time are also prone to hemorrhoids because the weight of their upper body is all on the anal area.
Most people have only mild symptoms especially if they have internal hemorrhoids. If you have internal hemorrhoids a common symptom is streaks of bright red blood on the toilet paper or maybe even some bright red blood in the toilet after you have a bowel movement as well as on the stool. Internal hemorrhoids are usually small and don’t cause any noticeable pain, however, they can be large drooping blood vessels that bulge out of the anus. If your hemorrhoids are large and bulging they can be very painful especially if the blood supply is cut off like when the anal muscles contract. External hemorrhoids on the other hand tend to cause itching and pain in your rectum. You may also notice some bright red blood with bowel movements. Frequently external hemorrhoids become irritated and clot causing a painful, hard lump under your skin.
Most hemorrhoids can be treated as well as prevented by making some lifestyle changes. Some of those include increasing the fiber in your diet. If you are someone that eats very little fiber you’ll want to increase the fiber in your diet slowly. If you don’t get enough fiber in your diet you may want to consider a fiber supplement. There are several available over the counter that have been shown to relieve the bleeding and other symptoms associated with hemorrhoids. Drink more water. Not counting coffee, sodas and alcohol you should drink 6 to 8 glasses of water daily. This helps you to stay hydrated and your stools to stay soft . Keeping your stool soft prevents your need to strain when having a bowel movement. You may find taking an over the counter stool softener helps as well. Maintaining your weight and exercising regularly helps to not only strengthen and tone your muscles but blood vessels as well. Regular exercise also help prevent constipation as well as maintain your weight. Avoid sitting for prolonged periods of time as it increases the pressure on the blood vessels in your anus.
If your hemorrhoids are causing you discomfort there are numerous over the counter products available. They come in creams and ointments as well as suppositories and pads. You should not uses these products for prolonged periods of time without consulting your doctor. If your hemorrhoids are more severe your Dr may recommended more invasive procedures if changes in diet and lifestyle have not helped.