As a kid, you may have seen Tucks medicated pads in a friend’s parent’s bathroom. Or, you may have heard older relatives lament the persistence of “hemorrhoids”—a funny-sounding grown-up-person problem.
Even as you reached adulthood, hemorrhoids likely remained a problem you rarely, if ever, considered.
Then, one day, you begin feeling itching and discomfort when sitting for long periods. You might even see blood on the toilet paper when you wipe. You go to the doctor and learn that you, now, are among the 75% of U.S. adults who suffer from hemorrhoids.
Don’t worry—as uncomfortable as hemorrhoids are, they can be managed or even eliminated with proper care. This includes attention to diet, a rebalancing of the gut microbiome, and lifestyle changes.
What Are Hemorrhoids?
Per Mayo Clinic, hemorrhoids are swollen veins in your anus or lower rectum. Also referred to as “piles,” they can emerge inside your rectum or under the skin around your anus.
Hemorrhoids are a natural feature of the human body. It’s when they become excessively swollen, develop blood clots (called thrombosis), or emerge in uncomfortable locations that they start to cause real discomfort and other problems.
While internal hemorrhoids inside the rectum often go unnoticed, external hemorrhoids may trigger symptoms you can’t ignore. Prolapsed hemorrhoids—internal or external—often bulge outside the anus. These tend to be especially painful and usually require medical attention.
Symptoms of Hemorrhoids
The type and severity of a hemorrhoid will determine the symptoms you experience. These can include:
- Discomfort and itching in the anus, especially the rectum
- Bulging of the skin around the rectum
- Sensitive lumps near the rectum
- Blood on the toilet paper when wiping
- Acute pain when sitting
These symptoms can vary in intensity and frequency. When they become persistent or seriously painful, it’s a good idea to see a doctor for a personalized treatment plan.
Common treatments for hemorrhoids include medicated wipes, anti-inflammatory creams, and surgical excision. Once you’ve treated your hemorrhoids, it’s critical to determine and address the problems that caused them in the first place. No one wants to deal with hemorrhoids on a regular basis.
Ask your doctor about how your diet and lifestyle could be contributing to your hemorrhoids.
Diet, Lifestyle, and Other Causes of Hemorrhoids
The Cleveland Clinic notes several risk factors for hemorrhoids, many of which relate to diet and lifestyle. Hemorrhoids can result from:
- Carrying excessive weight or being chronically obese
- Insufficient fiber in your diet
- Sitting on the toilet for long periods
- Excessive straining while going to the bathroom
- Inconsistent bowel movements, including constipation or diarrhea
Some lifestyle factors that contribute to hemorrhoids aren’t unhealthy. Lifting heavy objects, for instance, can contribute to the development of hemorrhoids, as can the later stages of pregnancy. There may also be a genetic component behind a tendency to develop hemorrhoids.
Even so, poor gut health, a sedentary lifestyle, and obesity play an outsized role in the development of hemorrhoids. The good news is that you can address these areas of your life and reduce the likelihood that your hemorrhoids will recur—or that you’ll develop them at all.
What to Do To Prevent Hemorrhoids
Many hemorrhoid risk factors are related to diet and lifestyle. Some starting points for their prevention include:
- Increasing the amount of fiber in your diet by eating foods like broccoli, beans, berries, and whole grains
- Taking fiber supplements, if your doctor recommends them
- Increasing your fluid intake, especially water
- Being patient when going to the bathroom instead of straining
- Trying a standing desk, which could help reduce the amount of time you spend sitting down
- Getting more exercise
- Making dietary changes and losing weight
Consult with your doctor and a nutritionist to come up with a personalized approach to hemorrhoid prevention.
Improved Gut Health and Probiotics: Keys to Alleviating Hemorrhoids
While poor gut health can be the source of problems throughout the body, the connection is especially direct when it comes to digestion and elimination. Whether you’re experiencing chronic diarrhea, chronic constipation, a maddening rollercoaster of the two, or other gut-related issues that contribute to hemorrhoids, any treatment approach should start with your gut.
You might visit a gastroenterologist or other doctor specializing in gut health. They may recommend dietary changes to improve your gut microbiome, and may prescribe prebiotics or probiotics to get your gut in healthier condition.
Without a healthy gut, you have little chance of warding off future hemorrhoids.
Probiotics and dietary changes can work in combination with your dietary and lifestyle changes, topical ointments, warm water soaking, and other treatments to combat hemorrhoids.
You can read more about prebiotics, probiotics, and their relationship with hemorrhoids here.