Hemorrhoids are veins under the rectum or around the anus that are dilated or swollen. They are caused by repeated pressure in the rectal or anal veins. This pressure usually results from repeated straining to pass bowel movements. Rarely they result from benign or malignant tumors of the abdomen or rectum.

Hemorrhoids are common and most people have some bleeding from them once in a while. Though annoying and uncomfortable, hemorrhoids are seldom a serious health problem.

Ask Yourself: Yes No
Do you have severe rectal bleeding that is continuous or associated with weakness or dizziness? Seek emergency care Go to next question
Do you have rectal bleeding:
  • Without bowel movements
  • That is heavy, dark red or turns brown
  • That lasts longer than two weeks despite using self-care procedures
  • See doctor Go to next question
    Do you have a hard lump where a hemorrhoid used to be? See doctor Go to next question
    Does the pain you feel with the hemorrhoid last longer than a week or is it severe? See doctor Provide self-care
    (see below)

    Self-Care Procedures:

    • Take daily measures to produce soft, easily passed bowel movements such as:
      • Drink plenty of water and other fluids: at least 1-1/2 to 2 quarts a day.
      • Eat foods with good sources of dietary fiber such as whole grain or bran cereals and breads, fresh vegetables and fruits.
      • Eat prunes and/or drink prune juice.
      • Add bran to your foods, if necessary (about three to four tablespoons per day).
      • Exercise regularly.
      • Pass a bowel movement as soon as you feel the urge. If you wait and the urge goes away, your stool could become dry and be harder to pass.
    • Lose weight if you are overweight.
    • Don't strain to have a bowel movement.
    • Don't hold your breath when trying to pass a stool.
    • Keep the anal area clean.
    • Take warm baths.
    • Use a sitz bath with hot water. A sitz bath device fits over the toilet. You can get one at a medical supply store or some pharmacies.
    • Use moist towelettes or wet toilet paper after a bowel movement instead of dry toilet paper.
    • Check with your doctor about using over-the-counter products such as:
      • Stool softeners
      • Zinc oxide preparations. Examples are Preparation H and Hemorid.
      • Medicated wipes such as Tucks
      • Medicated suppositories
    • Don't sit too much because it can restrict blood flow around the anal area.
    • Don't sit too long on the toilet.
    • Don't read while on the toilet.
    • For itching or pain, put cold compresses on the anus for 10 minutes up to four times a day.

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    Copyright © 1996 Don R. Powell, Ph.D. From The American Institute for Preventive Medicine's Self-Care: Your Family Guide to Symptoms and How to Treat Them, by arrangement with People«s Medical Society.

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