We’ve heard about how painful hemorrhoids can be, but few people are actually aware that hemorrhoids–veins in your anal canal–are completely normal. It’s only when they become swollen and inflamed that they become a problem.
When hemorrhoids are inflamed, they can cause significant discomfort, itching, and bleeding. But how they affect you depends entirely on the type of hemorrhoid you have.
There are two types of hemorrhoids: external and internal hemorrhoids. External hemorrhoids are located under the skin around the anus and can form a small, hard lump. When irritated, they can itch or bleed.
Internal hemorrhoids lie inside the rectum and can’t be seen or felt. They also rarely cause discomfort. However, straining and irritation when passing stool can cause damage to the hemorrhoid’s surface. Sometimes straining can push an internal hemorrhoid through the anal opening, which is known as protruding or prolapsed hemorrhoids.
Although hemorrhoids are common, that doesn’t necessarily make them any more comfortable to deal with. While they can be easy to treat, preventing them can save you from having to deal with treatments, pain, and embarrassment. But before you learn how to prevent hemorrhoids, first you must understand what causes them.
What Causes Hemorrhoids?
There are many actions that can make symptomatic hemorrhoids more likely, but it ultimately comes down to pressure overload on the veins.
To begin, take a deeper look at your bathroom routine. Spending too much time on the toilet (yes, that includes scrolling through your news feed) can be a huge trigger, said Anish Sheth, M.D., a gastroenterologist at the University Medical Center of Princeton in New Jersey. That’s because hemorrhoids can become enlarged and painful when there is an increase in pressure on the tissues that keep them in place.
By sitting on the toilet for extended periods of time, those tissues can become strained, irritated, and inflamed, said Dr. Sheth. The same applies to the times you are constipated, or if you sit in the same position at a desk or in a car. Men may even experience hemorrhoids if they lift heavy loads at the gym, according to Dr. Sheth.
With age, the risk of hemorrhoids increases, said Dr. Sheth. The connective tissues lining the anal canal become weaker with age, allowing the blood vessels to easily bulge during irritation or stress.
How to Prevent Hemorrhoids
To prevent hemorrhoids, you first have to approach your toilet time as an express experience, said Mitchell Bernstein, M.D., director of the division of colon and rectal surgery at NYU Langone Health. In fact, you should never spend longer than 15 minutes on the toilet.
The longer you linger, the more pressure you exert in your intra-abdominal region, he said. This can cause blood to pool in the veins in and around the rectum, which can later lead to hemorrhoids.
It is also a great idea to increase your water and fiber intake to help with constipation. Aim for at least 25 grams of fiber per day from foods such as oatmeal, prunes, fruits, vegetables, and beans, said Dr. Sheth. The fiber will help your stools become more pliable, shortening the time of transit through your digestive system, and also make it easier to poop.
This helps eliminate and reduce the straining or pushing that keeps you on the toilet–which puts significant pressure on the veins and causes inflammation.
When it’s time to go, go! By putting it off, water will be reabsorbed into the colon, making the stool harder to pass and increasing your chances of constipation, and of course, hemorrhoids.
Finally, stay active and keep moving. Sitting for extended periods of time is correlated with hemorrhoid problems, according to Robert Segal, M.D., founder and medical director of LabFinder. Moving around and exercising reduces your time sitting and also helps with digestion.