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Silent No More: Get Help for Your Hemorrhoids

It's a problem lots of people deal with but no one talks about. How do you cope with hemorrhoids? Or, even better, how can you avoid getting them in the first place?
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Need relief for painful, itching hemorrhoids? Better yet, how would you like to prevent flare-ups in the first place?

About 10 million Americans suffer from hemorrhoids, which are swollen veins in the rectum or around the anus. They can be internal or external.

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External hemorrhoids more commonly cause symptoms of pain and itching when irritated. Internal hemorrhoids generally are painless but can cause bleeding. "They can cause bright red rectal bleeding, but if you have bleeding, don't assume it's hemorrhoids," says Patricia Raymond, MD, of Chesapeake, Va. Colorectal cancer can also cause rectal bleeding, so you need to see your doctor to rule out cancer or other serious causes of rectal bleeding.

Sometimes internal hemorrhoids can protrude outside of the anus. Protruding (or prolapsed) hemorrhoids can become painful if irritated.

Other hemorrhoid symptoms include mucus drainage. A blood clot that forms within a hemorrhoid, called a thrombosed hemorrhoid, can be extremely painful.

WebMD talked to experts about the best ways to prevent and treat hemorrhoids.

Key to Prevention: Stop Straining

For many people, hemorrhoids are caused by straining during bowel movements, especially with constipation. Pregnancy, lack of exercise, immobility, age, certain medical conditions, and medications are among other causes of constipation and hemorrhoids.

Your best strategy to prevent constipation -- and the hemorrhoids that come with it -- is through lifestyle changes that include adding more fiber to your diet, drinking plenty of water, and exercise.

Raymond recommends adding fiber to your diet, but not until things are moving again. "If you add fiber to someone already constipated, all you'll get is constipation with more fiber. First the stool needs to be made soft. Prunes have a natural laxative. Some people just need a stool softener like Colace."

After that is taken care of, Linda White, RD, clinical dietitian for the Nutrition Counseling Center at the University of California/San Francisco, recommends increasing fiber intake gradually, along with fluid intake.

"If you increase fiber without increasing fluid, you'll have bloating and gas," says White.

Dietary fiber includes fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. You can also use fiber supplements like Metamucil, Citrucel, and Benefiber. Fiber helps to soften stool and increase stool bulk.

"If you got seven servings of fruits and vegetables, adequate fluid, and 30 to 60 minutes of exercise each day, would you be straining?" asks Raymond.

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