What causes and how to treat hemorrhoids

Help for a painful condition. Hemorrhoids are swollen or enlarged veins at the anus (terminal opening of the rectum); they may be external or internal. They can cause itching, bleeding, and pain; they are likely to recur. Brought on by pressure, they are common among the chronically constipated and those who habitually strain to pass stools.

If they are external, tiny folds of skin may protrude from the anus. They may bleed occasionally and are usually painful only when there is clotting or swelling. Internal hemorrhoids can cause pain, bleeding, and protrusion. Because any rectal bleeding may be a sign of a serious, unrelated illness, see your doctor.

Hemorrhoids may occur during pregnancy or after delivery, but they soon disappear. Other problems that cause pressure, such as a tumor or a cyst, can lead to hemorrhoids.

The usual treatment is a diet high in fiber: whole-grain or bran breads or cereals, fresh fruits and vegetables, and dried fruits. And drink plenty of liquids. Although a high-fiber diet may not prevent hemorrhoids, it can relieve the discomfort. Hot baths, rest, and pain medication can all be soothing; cold compresses will reduce the swelling. Good hygiene-washing gently with wet paper and drying carefully after a bowel movement-is important.