A Pharmacists Tips for Self Treating Hemorrhoids
Do you have itching, swelling, tenderness, or pain with bowel movements or around your anus? You may have hemorrhoids, which are swollen veins located around the anus and lower rectum that become irritated. There are many ways to ease the discomfort of hemorrhoids. Your pharmacist can recommend safe and effective over-the-counter (OTC) treatments. Hemorrhoids may be uncomfortable to discuss, but there’s nothing to feel embarrassed about; hemorrhoids are extremely common and easily treatable.
What are hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids can be classified into categories depending on the location of swelling: external, internal, or a mix of both. Typical symptoms include anal bleeding, pain, itching, swelling, tenderness, bulging of the skin, or pain with bowel movements. Although mild cases can be resolved with self-treatment, more severe cases should be evaluated by your doctor.
Are there any OTC products that provide relief from hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoid flare-ups are very normal, especially with increased stress. Luckily, there are many OTC products available at your local pharmacy. Be sure to talk to your pharmacist to help direct you to the appropriate product, provide education, and answer any questions regarding the following products.
- Soothing agents: Soothing agents relieve discomfort by directly numbing the nerve signals located in the irritated area. OTC products include lidocaine (RectiSmooth, Preparation H) or pramoxine (Proctofoam).
- Steroid rectal cream/suppositories: Steroid products prevent chemicals that cause inflammation throughout the entire body. This is a good option if symptoms continue with soothing agents. Soothing agents and steroid creams should only be used on external hemorrhoids. OTC products include hydrocortisone cream or suppositories (Preparation H, Tucks).
- Softening stools: A balanced, healthy diet focusing on plenty of liquids (2 liters per day or four water bottles) and fiber (20 to 30 grams of insoluble fiber per day) can prevent constipation. Examples of fiber include whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, or nuts. Talk to your pharmacist about OTC fiber supplements or OTC products that can soften stools. Be careful not to overuse these products because diarrhea can worsen hemorrhoids.
How can I treat hemorrhoids without medication?
The following lifestyle DOs and DON’Ts are helpful tips that can provide relief of hemorrhoid symptoms and may be used in combination with medication therapy.
DO: Stay physically active to improve blood circulation, but avoid activities that could irritate hemorrhoids, such as biking or heavy lifting.
DO: Consider a donut seat cushion if approved by a medical professional. This donut-shaped pillow allows you to sit without putting unwanted pressure on your hemorrhoids. Be sure to read instructions on appropriate use and listen to your body to ensure you are properly supported and comfortable.
DO: Bathe in a lukewarm sitz bath 2-3 times a day for 15 minutes to promote fissure healing and blood flow. This can be done at home with a clean bathtub by filling it with 4-5 inches of lukewarm water with or without 2 cups of Epsom salt. Your pharmacy may also sell a hemorrhoid kit that rests a plastic basin on top of the toilet seat for easy soaking.
DO: Place an ice pack 3-4 times a day for 10 minutes to relieve pain. Remember to use a clean cloth between the ice and skin to prevent an ice burn.
DO: Avoid tight, polyester clothes, and instead try wearing breathable cotton. Using fragrance-free detergents can also help.
DON’T: Sit for prolonged periods of time as it puts unwanted pressure on the hemorrhoids.
DONT: Delay bowel movements or strain if constipated, as it puts unwanted pressure on the hemorrhoids. Remember to wipe gently and use fragrance-free baby wipes.
DON’T: Self-treat without the guidance of a medical professional if you have a complicated health history or if the following pertains to you: still having symptoms, pregnant, irritable bowel syndrome, impaired immune system, taking blood thinners, liver disease, or due for a colonoscopy (screening starts at age 45).
What if I still have symptoms after making lifestyle changes and trying OTC products?
If symptoms do not get better after a week, there is severe pain or bleeding, or the hemorrhoids interfere with your quality of life, it is important that you go see your doctor. Your doctor will be able to examine your hemorrhoids, rule out other conditions, and discuss other options for treatment.
Hemorrhoids may cause plenty of discomfort and asking for help may be an even more uncomfortable situation. There is nothing to fear as pharmacists can suggest the perfect remedy for you. Make certain to explain your full medication and hemorrhoid history.