Hemorrhoids: It can be an embarrassing subject, a topic most people don’t want to discuss. Yet, many myths are often taken as truth when it comes to the causes and treatments of hemorrhoids. In a quest to suss out the facts, we tapped an expert. Here, her helpful insights.
So, what are hemorrhoids exactly? “Hemorrhoids are swollen veins in the lower part of the rectum and anus,” explains Nicole Scott, MD, a physician in the obstetrics and gynecology department at Indiana University Health. “Technically, everyone has these veins, but it’s more of an issue of whether they become swollen and inflamed.” She notes that hemorrhoids are estimated to affect 50 percent of people at some point in their lives.
Below, Dr. Scott clears the air about myths surrounding this condition and explains what really helps prevent and treat hemorrhoids.
Not necessarily, explains Dr. Scott. “People can have both internal and external hemorrhoids. Internal means it’s above the anus and these are typically not painful, but can cause bleeding.” The bulging external ones, however, can be very painful. You should see your doctor if you’re having pain or any rectal bleeding.
Actually certain groups are more at risk because the cause of hemorrhoids has to do with increased abdominal pressure. “Chronic constipation, obesity and pregnancy are the often the causes,” says Dr. Scott.
Men or women can get hemorrhoids, and they can affect people at any age. Though less common, hemorrhoids in kids or teenagers are not unheard of. With all that in mind, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) notes that you’re at increased risk of getting them if you:
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Changing your diet is one of the best ways to prevent hemorrhoids. “Drinking more water, eating more fiber, and eating fresh fruits and vegetables all decreases your chance of getting constipated, which is the best prevention,” says Dr. Scott. Eating fiber-rich foods can make your stools softer and easier to pass. Additionally, she adds, exercising, wiping thoroughly and going to the bathroom when the urge hits can all help.
“The first line of treatment is conservative, often with topical steroid cream and working to decrease constipation. Rarely do people with hemorrhoids need surgery,” she says. She explains that those with internal hemorrhoids may benefit from a suppository.
This is not the case, says Dr. Scott. However, there are certain foods to avoid if you have hemorrhoids according to NIDD. These include foods with little or no fiber (which can trigger constipation and strain during bowel movements), including:
Are hemorrhoids contagious?
Can stress cause hemorrhoids?
Stress can lead to constipation which, in turn, can cause hemorrhoids.
Can you apply heat or cold for hemorrhoids?
Some people find relief from hemorrhoids with warm baths or by applying an ice pack. Talk to your doctor about the best type of home treatment for you.
Can high blood pressure cause hemorrhoids?
Studies have shown that high blood pressure does not necessarily cause hemorrhoids, but is associated with more bleeding from hemorrhoids.
While hemorrhoids or piles can cause discomfort and annoyance, they are typically not serious. For mild cases, you can start with dietary adjustments and over the counter treatments. If hemorrhoids do not improve, or if they cause pain, speak to your physician. If you’re pregnant, talk to your OB/GYN. If the condition persists, becomes more serious, or affects your life’s activities, you may need to consult with a gastroenterologist. Learn more about the gastroenterology at IU Health or find a provider near you.