Hemorrhoids are typically defined as a disorder of the rectum and/or anus. Discussions regarding hemorrhoids may be studiously avoided or fodder for embarrassing jokes, but for those suffering from hemorrhoids, hemorrhoids no laughing matter.
Hemorrhoids can be extremely painful, and in some cases, lead to increased discomfort and hemorrhoid complications if not treated in a timely manner.
What Exactly is a Hemorrhoid?
A hemorrhoid is, at its most basic definition, a varicose or swollen vein. While varicose veins are most commonly associated with the legs, a hemorrhoid caused by a swollen vein in the rectum or anus and a leg varicose vein are both caused by the same thing: a thin or weak section in the wall of a blood vessel that enables blood to pool in that location, often causing a bulge.
Hemorrhoids are typically found along the linings of the rectum or the anus. The rectum as well as the pelvic floor muscles are richly supplied by blood vessels. One of the most common causes in the formation of a hemorrhoid (aka pile) is overexertion of pressure or stretching of the veins found around the anus. Hemorrhoids are typically caused by:
- Straining to have a bowel movement
- Low-fiber diet
- Chronic cases of constipation and/or diarrhea
- Aging (aging veins and tissues stretch and weaken over time)
The hemorrhoid itself is defined as an enlarged vein that bulges from the internal lining of the rectum (internal hemorrhoid) or can protrude externally through the anus (external hemorrhoid). A hemorrhoid often becomes inflamed and can develop a blood clot known as a thrombus.
Increased pressure when defecating causes some hemorrhoids to bleed. Straining to produce a bowel movement increases blood pressure, which may prompt the hemorrhoid to burst. Some are painless, only suspected by bloody toilet tissue or some blood in toilet water. Blood may also be found in the stool itself.
A number of over-the-counter treatments are available for hemorrhoids. However, some cases may require in-office medical treatment such as sclerotherapy or rubber band ligation.
Common home remedies for relief of itching, burning, or mild discomfort include:
- Use of topical creams
- Witch hazel compresses
- Warm sitz baths
Some hemorrhoids disappear on their own, and the swelling caused by them typically disappears within six weeks. However, some individuals are less patient and resort to sometimes alarming remedies of their own to deal with hemorrhoids.
What NOT to Do Your Hemorrhoid
Frustration, pain, discomfort, and embarrassment may prompt some individuals to take steps to make hemorrhoids go away faster. Even if you’re desperate:
- Don’t poke at the hemorrhoid.
A hemorrhoid is not a pimple. For some, the discomfort of a hemorrhoid, along with accompanied itching, prompts some to poke at it with a safety pin, a needle, or other sharp object. This is certainly not recommended. Risk of bleeding or infection can lead to more severe complications.
A much more effective home-based remedy to relieve itching and discomfort involves soaking in a warm Epsom salt bath for 15 minutes three times daily. This soothes irritated tissues and may help reduce inflammation.
- Don’t place an ice cube directly on the hemorrhoid.
While ice may seem like a good idea and provide immediate relief and aid in decreasing inflammation, it is not advised to apply ice directly to a hemorrhoid. A barrier such as a washcloth between the hemorrhoid and the ice cube is recommended. Contact should be limited to 10 or 15 minutes. Relief will be temporary but appreciated.
- Don’t sit in a very hot bath, sitz bath, or hot bucket of water. Excessive heat can actually increase anal swelling and lead to pooling of blood, exacerbating the size and irritation of the hemorrhoid.
Instead, sit in a lukewarm sitz bath for approximately 15 minutes several times a day to provide temporary relief. Follow with a witch hazel compress.
- Don’t soak the hemorrhoid in apple cider vinegar.
A common myth is that apple cider vinegar provides often miraculous relief from itching and discomfort. Like ice, application of apple cider vinegar may provide extremely temporary relief. It can also burn the skin, especially in the case of longer than recommended contact with the skin. Overuse can also exacerbate symptoms as well as further irritate the hemorrhoid.
Before attempting any home remedy for swollen, painful, and irritating hemorrhoids, proceed with caution. Desperation often contributes to ill-advised home remedies that may prove more harmful than beneficial in the long run.
When in doubt, call your physician or a health clinic for recommendations for home-based treatments for minor hemorrhoids, most of which will disappear on their own. More serious or chronic hemorrhoids may require more focused treatment by a trained physician.