While hemorrhoids are often the butt of jokes, those suffering with them don’t find the situation funny. And, unfortunately, about half of all of us will have hemorrhoids by age 50.
Julie Maner-Stevenson, advanced practice registered nurse with OSF HealthCare, puts jokes aside and talks about how you can lessen your chances of suffering from hemorrhoids.
What are hemorrhoids?
When the veins or blood vessels in and around your anus and lower rectum become swollen and irritated, they’re called hemorrhoids. It is a result of too much pressure on these veins and blood vessels.
Hemorrhoids can be either inside your anus or under the skin around the outside of your anus.
“Hemorrhoids are a very common condition that affects many people, usually between the ages of 45 to 65, but they can affect people of all ages and genders,” Julie said.
What causes hemorrhoids?
You may get hemorrhoids if you:
- Are older
- Are pregnant
- Have a family history
- Have long-term or chronic constipation or diarrhea
- Often strain during bowel movements
It usually comes down to excess pressure, but it can result from weakened veins and blood vessels or hereditary issues. Everyone is different and can handle different levels of pressure.
“For instance, many times, women get hemorrhoids during their pregnancy and childbirth. The extra pressure of the baby and the exertion of childbirth puts stress on the blood vessels in their pelvis,” Julie said.
What can you do to prevent hemorrhoids?
While it’s not always possible to prevent hemorrhoids, you can reduce the likelihood by eating a normal healthy diet, avoid straining those veins and blood vessels and maintaining a healthy weight.
“Preventing hemorrhoids includes keeping bowel movements soft and easy to pass,” Julie said. “This can be done by staying hydrated and increasing fiber.”
Maintaining consistent bowel movements through proper nutrition reduces the risk of constipation and diarrhea.
“Most people need 20-35 grams of fiber daily. Consuming a diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables along with other fiber-filled foods can help increase daily fiber consumption,” Julie said. “If you find it hard to consume enough fiber, you can try over-the-counter fiber supplements like Metamucil, Citrucel, Benefiber or Fibercon. These medications can all be found in generic form.”
Another advantage to a healthy digestive tract, it helps limit your effort and time on the toilet.
“Try to avoid straining during bowel movements. Some people need to take stool softeners to prevent hard stools that are difficult to pass,” Julie said. “Stool softeners like docusate sodium can be used. In some cases, osmotic laxatives like polyethylene glycol 3350 may be useful.”
It’s not always possible, but try to avoid exerting or straining those veins and blood vessels.
Talking to your health care provider
Working with your health care provider to manage bowel issues and prevent unnecessary straining is your first step toward avoiding hemorrhoids.
Your primary care provider can help you identify trouble spots in your diet and connect you with a dietitian, if necessary.