Five years ago, childbirth brought Loriel Adams of Tampa, FL, a bundle of joy in the form of a baby boy. But it also brought painful hemorrhoids that she's been dealing with ever since.
"I had an epidural. I couldn't feel anything, so I was pushing in the wrong ways. And I think that's what flared it up," she says.
While hemorrhoids may seem embarrassing, almost everyone deals with them at some point in their lives. Lifestyle changes and over-the-counter treatments can bring relief.
Luckily, hemorrhoids usually clear up on their own in a week or two. And when they don't, your doctor can help.
Make It Stop!
"I always recommend witch hazel," says Marie-Elizabeth Ramas, MD, family doctor at Lamprey Health Care Center in Nashua, NH. "That's part of what is in those Preparation H wipes." It may reduce inflammation -- and thus pain and itching -- and slow down the bleeding. You can find creams with witch hazel, too, or you can swab liquid witch hazel onto the hemorrhoid with a cotton ball.
"I used over-the-counter hemorrhoid wipes because using regular toilet paper on a hemorrhoid is just not fun," Adams says.
Shallow warm baths may ease the pain, and "Epsom salt can help reduce swelling," Ramas says. (Either put a few inches of water in a bathtub or buy a "sitz bath," a bowl that fits over a toilet seat so you can easily soak the painful area, at a pharmacy or medical supply stores.) Do this several times a day.
You can also make a compress with Epsom salt. Mix 2 tablespoons with 2 tablespoons of glycerin. Apply the mixture to your hemorrhoid with a gauze pad, and leave it on for about 15 minutes. Repeat every 4 to 6 hours as needed.
There's not much scientific evidence to prove the benefits of other home remedies for hemorrhoids. But Adams, who tried the usual things including a rather painful rubber band ligation at her doctor's office, eventually turned to homeopathic remedies. "Within the first day, I noticed a substantial difference in the pain," she recalls. "Within 5 to 7 days I was feeling better."
Check with your doctor before you try any "cures" so you don't make the problem worse.
Keep Your Bowels Moving
"The most important thing is to make sure you're not constipated and having to bear down when you go to the bathroom," Ramas says. Constipation can both lead to hemorrhoid flare-ups and make them last longer.
Drink plenty of fluids, preferably water -- not alcohol and caffeine. These tend to dehydrate, which is the opposite of what you want.
"I found out that dairy was a huge culprit for me," Adams says, "so I cut it out a little bit, and I had good results."
Add fiber to your diet with fresh fruit, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, and bran. "It's about fueling your body appropriately and giving yourself the nutrients that your body needs to function effectively," Ramas says. Your doctor might also want you to take psyllium husk supplements.
Exercise can help keep you regular, too.
And when you feel the need to go, don't wait. "You want to have a bowel movement as quickly and efficiently as possible," she says.
Adams used a foot stool that wraps around the toilet to put her in a squatting position. "It's like an ergonomic way to poop," Ramas says. "If that helps some people, that's definitely OK."
"After a few days or a week, if it isn't getting better or it's causing enough discomfort to interfere with your day-to-day activities, that's when you need to see your family doctor," Ramas says.
That doesn't mean you'll need one of the procedures or surgeries that can treat hemorrhoids. Your doctor might simply help you discover what's keeping yours inflamed.
"So many things are connected," she says. "For example, if you're drinking lots of coffee because you're working extra hours, or if you haven't really been eating the best because of the stress of these extra work hours, then that does connect to the reason [for the hemorrhoids]."
You may dread talking about a topic this personal, even with your doctor -- but you shouldn't. "I like to remind my patients," Ramas says, "that you definitely aren't the first, and you're not going to be the last, person dealing with this. Part of my job is to help you not have to suffer."
Adams agrees about speaking up, no matter how uncomfortable the subject. "Don't suffer. It's a natural problem. Don't wait and put yourself through more misery than necessary."