Hemorrhoids, also known as piles, are normally present veins in the anus and rectum that become swollen and distended. Over three-quarters of people in the United States have experienced symptoms of hemorrhoids at some time in their lives, the peak age being between 45 to 65 years.
Hemorrhoids can occur during pregnancy and in people with chronic constipation, especially if there is a tendency to strain during bowel movements or sit for prolonged periods of time on the toilet, which increases pressure in the anal canal. Recent studies suggest that people with hemorrhoids tend to have higher-than-normal resting muscle tone in the anal cavity.
Home Remedies for Hemorrhoids
In many cases, hemorrhoid symptoms can improve dramatically with simple home remedies. To avoid flare-ups, try the following:
Fiber shows a consistent beneficial effect in relieving hemorrhoid symptoms and bleeding. Fiber can soften stool and increase its bulk, which helps to reduce straining. Seven randomized trials with a total of 378 participants found that fiber improved symptoms including itching, discomfort, and pain.
There are plenty of ways to get more fiber. Start by eating foods high in fiber, such as beans, fresh fruit and vegetables, and whole grains, increasing fiber gradually to avoid bloating and gas. Gradually increase intake to 25-30 grams of fiber per day. Fluid intake should also be increased with added fiber, otherwise constipation may worsen.
Bioflavonoids are a type of plant compound found naturally in citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons. Diosmin, hesperidin, and oxerutins are they major citrus bioflavonoids. Thought to stabilize and strengthen veins and capillaries and reduce inflammation, clinical trials have shown that bioflavonoids can reduce bleeding, discomfort and pain during acute hemorrhoid flare-ups and also help symptoms in between flare-ups.
Human studies on oral bioflavonoid supplements have often used a supplement containing 450mg diosmin and 50mg hesperidin. For acute hemorrhoids, the amount has generally been four to six tablets daily for four days followed by a lower dose for three days. To prevent bleeding from recurring, two tablets daily has typically been taken for 2-3 months.
Hesperidin (and possibly the other citrus bioflavonoids) have the potential to interact with many medications such as anticoagulants, antiplatelets, blood pressure medication, and CNS depressants, so it should be used with caution.
3) Witch Hazel Compress or Ointment
This drug store staple is made from the leaves and bark of a plant called Hamamelis virginiana, also known as witch hazel. It is not taken internally but applied topically to the anal area in the form of witch hazel distilled liquid, ointment, compress or medicated pads (such as Tucks).
Witch hazel is thought to decrease the bleeding of hemorrhoids by acting as an astringent. It may also relieve pain, itching and swelling associated with hemorrhoids. Learn the essentials in my article on witch hazel.
4) Butcher's Broom
The plant butcher's broom (Ruscus aculeatus), which is also known as knee holly, box holly, and sweet broom, gets its name because it was once used by butchers in Europe to clean their chopping blocks. Butcher's broom has a long history of traditional use for hemorrhoids and varicose veins. It is often used when there is underlying poor circulation in the veins.
Butcher's broom has been shown to cause constriction of the veins by activating alpha-adrenergic receptors on smooth muscle cells of the walls of the veins. There is a lack of evidence on the effectiveness of butcher's broom for hemorrhoids. The limited studies, which include a review of 124 cases of patients with hemorrhoids, found that 75% of reporting physicians rated butcher's broom extract as having good or excellent effectiveness in reducing hemorrhoids. Further research is needed.
Butcher's broom is usually recommended in capsule or tea form. The tea, which has a slightly bitter taste, can be made by steeping one teaspoon of the herb in a cup of hot water for 10 to 15 minutes. A natural sweetener such as stevia can be used to sweeten it.
Butcher's broom may interact with medication for high blood pressure, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), alpha blockers, anti-depressants or MAO inhibitors.
Learn more about using butcher's broom.
5) French Maritime Pine Bark Extract
French maritime pine bark extract is a source of flavonoids, catechins, proanthocyanidins, and phenolic acids, compounds which with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Human studies have found that people who ingested six tablets of a French maritime pine bark extract (Pycnogenol®) per day for four days followed by three 50mg tablets for three days showed some improvement.
Another study evaluated the effectiveness of a French maritime pine back extract in women with hemorrhoids in the months after having their second child. The dosage was 150mg per day for six months. After six months, there was a reduction in symptoms in those taking the extract.
Find out more about using French maritime pine bark extract (Pycnogenol).
Other Home Remedies and Natural Tips
- Ointments and creams can protect the skin in the area, reduce itching, and prevent further injury. Zinc oxide cream or ointment is often recommended. Although petroleum jelly is commonly recommended, coconut oil can also be used. Vitamin E oil can be applied to the affected area by breaking open a vitamin E capsule.
- A small ice pack placed against the area for several minutes at a time can reduce pain and swelling.
- A 20 minute sitz bath, a warm water bath that immerses the buttocks and hips, may help to relieve irritation. Epsom salts can be added to the sitz bath. Carefully dry the anal area afterward by gently patting it rather than wiping hard.
- Aerobic exercise for 20-30 minutes per day can help to stimulate bowel function.
- Try to go to the bathroom when you feel the urge, rather than waiting, in order to prevent straining and added pressure.
- To help reduce swelling, try sitting on a cushion rather than a hard surface.
- Triphala is a compound of three fruits that is used in Ayurvedic medicine as a bowel "tonic" that gently relieves constipation without being a harsh stimulant.
- Chamomile or calendula are herbs that can be applied topically as a compress or ointment.
- Stress may be a factor for some people with constipation and hemorrhoids. Consider mind-body interventions such as yoga, qi gong, and meditation.
Symptoms of Hemorrhoids
Internal hemorrhoids (ones that are inside the anal cavity) usually cause painless bleeding at the end of a bowel movement. Blood can be a sign of a serious problem so it's important to be evaluated by a health professional.
Other symptoms are a sensation of fullness, usually described as feeling the urge to have a bowel movement even when there is no stool. Straining worsens the discomfort.
There may be acute pain, itching, and irritation around the anus. This often occurs when the hemorrhoid has prolapsed and can be seen outside the anus or it can be caused when a blood clot develops or the hemorrhoid becomes twisted. There may be a painful lump or swelling around the anus. These may be serious and requires evaluation.
External hemorrhoids (outside the anus) can often be felt as a bulge in the anus. Although they can be itchy and painful, they sometimes don't cause typical symptoms.