3 Myths You’ve Been Told About Hemorrhoids
Hemorrhoids — swollen veins in or around the anus or lower rectum — are a common problem that many people experience but few openly discuss. This secrecy can create embarrassment and even mystery around something that’s actually not complicated. If you have hemorrhoids, there are things you can do. But first, you’ll want to sort fact from fiction when it comes to reducing symptoms and preventing more hemorrhoids.
Myth: I’m the Only One With This Digestive Problem
Fact: “Hemorrhoids are very common,” says Will Kimbrough, MD, a physician at One Medical Group in Washington, D.C. Many people will develop some form of hemorrhoid before age 50, he says. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) says that more than 75 percent of people will experience hemorrhoids at least once in their lifetime.
Myth: Only Older People Get Hemorrhoids
Fact: People can develop hemorrhoids at any age. “While hemorrhoids are most common between ages 45 and 65, it’s not unusual to see them in younger adults as well,” Dr. Kimbrough says. According to the NIDDK, as people age, the connective tissue between the anus and rectum weakens, making them more susceptible to hemorrhoids. But the NIDDK points out that people of any age can get hemorrhoids — a common cause of hemorrhoids is pressure on the anus from straining associated with constipation or diarrhea. Pressure on the abdomen during pregnancy, which causes veins to swell, can also lead to hemorrhoids.
Myth: Spicy Foods Cause Hemorrhoids
Fact: This is false, Kimbrough says: “Hemorrhoids are caused by strain on the veins near the anus. This results from pressure on the blood vessel, not by anything happening in the body’s metabolism.” A report on hemorrhoid treatment published in September 2014 in the New England Journal of Medicine noted that one clinical trial showed symptoms did not get worse in people who ate hot chili peppers.
Myth: What You Eat Doesn’t Affect Hemorrhoids
Fact: Constipation is one of the biggest risk factors for developing hemorrhoids, Kimbrough says. Eating a high-fiber diet and staying well hydrated can help keep bowel movements soft and prevent constipation and straining, he says. The American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (ASCRS) recommends consuming 20 to 35 grams of fiber daily. If you aren’t getting enough dietary fiber, talk to your doctor about fiber supplements that may be beneficial.
Myth: Cold Surfaces Cause Hemorrhoids
Fact: “While it hasn’t been studied extensively, there’s no evidence that cold surfaces can cause hemorrhoids,” Kimbrough says. “In fact, a cold compress may be helpful to relieve some of the symptoms of hemorrhoids.” You can use cold packs to reduce swelling and relieve discomfort by placing them on the anus for small periods of time. But beware: Just sitting on the toilet for a long time can cause hemorrhoids, the NIDDK says. Kimbrough recommends avoiding distractions, like reading material or your phone, that make you lose track of time while you’re in the bathroom.
Myth: Exercise Should Be Avoided If You Have Hemorrhoids
Fact: “Exercise is actually an important part of avoiding hemorrhoids, with one small exception,” Kimbrough says. “Lifting heavy weights with poor technique — like holding your breath while you lift — can increase the risk of hemorrhoids or make existing hemorrhoids worse.” Other than that, regular exercise can help prevent constipation and weight gain and, in turn, reduce the risk of hemorrhoids, he says.
Myth: Treatment for Hemorrhoids Requires SurgeryFact: It’s unusual to need surgery for hemorrhoids because symptoms generally clear up on their own or with conservative treatment, Kimbrough says. The cornerstones of hemorrhoid treatment are dietary changes and lifestyle modifications, according to the ASCRS. The group says that less than 10 percent of people with hemorrhoids require surgery. “There are several smaller procedures that are easier and quicker than surgery that can be done if the conservative, at-home approaches aren’t working,” Kimbrough says
Myth: Hemorrhoids Increase the Risk of Cancer
Fact: “There’s no evidence that hemorrhoids increase the risk of cancer,” Kimbrough says. “The only concern with hemorrhoids is that people with a history of hemorrhoids can sometimes be dismissive of having bleeding with bowel movements and miss warning signs.” If you’re older than 50 or have someone in your immediate family with a history of colorectal cancer, you should be mindful of any changes in symptoms or any new digestive symptoms that accompany common hemo