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Hemorrhoids are something that most people don’t want to talk about! But hemorrhoid disease is one of the most common gastrointestinal diagnoses, with as many as 10 million people affected by it every year.

People with hemorrhoids commonly have these four questions.

What are Hemorrhoids?

Hemorrhoids start as normal veins within the tissue and muscle that make up the anal canal of every healthy adult. The vein becomes a hemorrhoid when it swells and stretches, allowing blood to pool inside and inflammation to occur around it.

When hemorrhoids occur internally, higher up in the rectum, they are painless and often without symptoms. However, they can also swell and bulge outside of the anus.

Hemorrhoids can also occur externally, around the lining of the rectum. When this happens, they are more often visible and are more likely to hurt or bleed.

Symptoms of external hemorrhoids include:

  • Discomfort, itching, pain around anus
  • Blood on toilet paper or in bowl
  • Moist pink bumps

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What causes Hemorrhoids?

Most commonly, hemorrhoids are caused by a buildup of pressure in the lower rectum. This pressure can be caused by:

  • Straining during bowel movements
  • Repeated straining to perform a difficult physical activity, such as lifting something heavy
  • Sitting for long stretches of time
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Pregnancy or delivery
  • Weight gain

Age is a contributing factor when it comes to hemorrhoids. People between the ages of 45 and 65 are more likely to develop hemorrhoids because, as you age, the tissue that supports the veins in your rectum weaken and stretch.

How Do You Prevent Hemorrhoids?

There is no guaranteed way to prevent hemorrhoids, but there are things you can do to lower your chances of developing them:

  • Eat a high-fiber diet of unprocessed plant foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Take a fiber supplement or stool softener, rather than laxatives (which can cause diarrhea and irritate hemorrhoids).
  • Don’t sit or stand for long stretches of time, and exercise regularly.

How Do You Get Rid of Hemorrhoids?

Most of the time, hemorrhoids that are swollen will shrink on their own. If you are experiencing symptoms and are uncomfortable, there are some home remedies that can reduce discomfort and swelling:

  • Take a sitz bath – sit in three inches of hot water for 15 minutes two times a day
  • Dab irritated external hemorrhoids with witch hazel
  • Wipe with moist towelettes to avoid irritating hemorrhoids
  • Use a cold pack to numb and reduce swelling

Swollen hemorrhoids should start to shrink within a few days. If they do not, you may need to see your doctor.

When to Visit Your Doctor

If your hemorrhoid symptoms continue for more than a couple of weeks or have unbearable discomfort, speak to your doctor as soon as possible. Procedures to reduce swelling and relieve pain are available for severe hemorrhoids that do not respond to other treatment.

Large amounts of rectal bleeding, lightheadedness, dizziness, or faintness are not typical of hemorrhoids and may be signs of more extensive bleeding somewhere else in the digestive tract. If you experience these symptoms, seek emergency care immediately. To learn more or to schedule an appointment with a gastrointestinal specialist, visit the UPMC Digestive Health Care or call now, toll free, at 1-866-4GASTRO (1-866-442-7876).

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About Digestive Disorders

UPMC Digestive Health Care cares for a wide range of gastrointestinal (GI) conditions and diseases, from diagnosis to treatment. Whether your digestive condition is common or complicated, our experts can help. Upon referral from your physician, we coordinate your testing and treatment. If you have a complicated condition, we can refer you to one of UPMC’s digestive health centers of excellence. Find a GI doctor near you.