If you have hemorrhoids, you have plenty of treatment options at your disposal. But if you have hemorrhoids, you’d probably advise others to avoid getting them in the first place.
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Hemorrhoids — swollen, inflamed venous cushions in your anal canal — can be occasionally painful and itchy and can cause bleeding. But it’s possible to avoid these irritating symptoms with some simple lifestyle changes.
Colorectal surgeon Arielle Kanters, MD, explains five simple ways you can prevent hemorrhoids and how certain lifestyle changes can make the world of difference.
Can hemorrhoids be prevented?
Everyone has hemorrhoids. Located near your anus, they are several internal and external blood vessels that supply blood to the entire area. It’s only when these blood vessels start to swell and become inflamed that they present a problem that can be quite painful. Here are a few things you can do to prevent those blood vessels from swelling.
1. Go to the bathroom when you need to go
This sounds like common-sense advice, but too many people ignore it. If you delay using the bathroom, your stool (poop) may become hard and dry in your bowel, which makes it harder to pass. If you strain to pass stool, your risk for developing hemorrhoids increases.
Speaking of straining, don’t force a bowel movement when you don’t need to go. Straining increases the pressure on your venous cushions, which leads to hemorrhoids. In particular, straining can turn internal hemorrhoids into external ones.
2. Don’t turn the bathroom into a reading room
Think of your time in the bathroom as a necessity, not an extended escape. If your toilet has stacks of magazines or books on the water tank, consider moving them to another room. Don’t take your phone into the toilet area — no browsing Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter or playing games.
Why? The more time you spend on the toilet, the more likely you’ll strain for bowel movements. Also, the seated position puts extra stress on your anal blood vessels. Both of these factors boost your risk of hemorrhoids.
3. Reassess your diet
To prevent hemorrhoids, you want stool that is soft and easy to pass. You can reach the right consistency by making smart diet choices and drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
A lack of fiber is the most common culprit. For example, if you find yourself constipated, try getting more fiber from green vegetables, fruits and 100% whole grains. Fiber can help you avoid constipation, and constipation — which leads to straining — is a risk factor for hemorrhoids.
Fiber comes with a warning, though. Some people have what we call “slow transit constipation.” Their bowels move slower than normal. For these people, excess fiber tends to sit in their gut and make constipation worse.
Also, listen to your body and avoid foods that irritate your bowels. For some people, the lactose in dairy products is an irritant. For others, it’s gluten or too many refined foods.
4. Keep your body moving through exercise
Moderate exercise helps improve or prevent many bowel and digestive issues, including hemorrhoids. When you’re sedentary, everything slows down, including your bowels.
Exercise helps keep waste moving through your intestinal tract. In turn, this helps you avoid constipation and dry, hard stool. Walking, running short distances, biking, yoga — take your pick, but choose an active lifestyle.
But a note of caution if you have hemorrhoids: Avoid heavy-duty weight-lifting squats and similar motions that increase abdominal pressure. If you’re trying to prevent hemorrhoids, these exercises can do more harm than good.
5. See your doctor
If your symptoms change or bleeding increases, see your doctor and get your symptoms evaluated. Not all hemorrhoid treatment options are surgical. You may need an assessment to rule out other diseases.
Other lifestyle tips to help stop hemorrhoids
There are a few smaller things you can do daily that’ll help, too, including:
- Drink more water. Fiber without water makes stools hard.
- Avoid long periods of sitting.
- Ask your doctor about taking fiber supplements.
- Elevate your feet on a low stool or chair when you go to the bathroom to relieve pressure and move your stool without extra straining.