Hemorrhoids during pregnancy are particularly common. Also known as piles they can be described as clusters of swollen veins found at the anal opening (external hemorrhoids) or near the beginning of the anal canal (internal hemorrhoids). Like all other forms of varicose veins, hemorrhoids are caused by increased pressure which sooner or later destroys the valves in the veins. What makes hemorrhoids during pregnancy more common compared to other times is partly because of increased abdominal pressure and partly due to constipation (a frequent problem during pregnancy).
What actually happens is the blood collects in the veins, then the walls get stretched and when pressure of bowel movement (BM) is applied, a rupture and bleeding occurs. The slowdown in blood flow causes a clot to result which increases both swelling and pain.
- The most notable symptom is bright red blood during a bowel movement either on the toilet paper or on the stool or in the toilet bowl.
- Swelling or a soft lump at the anus which can feel itchy and painful
- Passing of mucus after bowel movement
- Painful bowel movements
During pregnancy constipation exacerbates and you can end up having piles. Other factors which worsen hemorrhoids during pregnancy include:
- Excessive straining during BM
- A sedentary lifestyle and no exercise
- Sitting for long periods as this can increase the pressure in the veins of the anus
- Eating too many sweets
- Diet lacking in fiber foods
- Excessive weight gain
Unfortunately hemorrhoids commonly occur in the final trimester and can continue to be a problem even after having your baby. Fortunately hemorrhoid during pregnancy is a temporary complaint but may return when you become pregnant again. Self-care measures to help lessen the impact of hemorrhoids during pregnancy include the following:
- Avoid straining and avoid hurrying during BM.
- Check with your doctor on a suitable bulk stool softener. Stick to natural versions such as psyllium husk.
- Try to establish a regular pattern of BM same time every day
- Lie on your left side for about 20 minutes every four-six hours. This will lessen the pressure of the main vein on the lower half of your body
- Rest with your legs and pelvis higher than your heart
- Take a hot sitz bath for a few minutes 2-3 times daily
- Clean the anal area gently with soft moist toilet paper or wipes after each bowel movement
- Apply ice pack or cold compress to the anal area
- For external hemorrhoids apply a cotton ball soaked in chilled witch hazel to the area
- Avoid standing and sitting for long periods of time. Instead move around to bring relief
- Practicing kegel exercises can help prevent hemorrhoids or from worsening it
- Include walking in your regime especially if you have a sedentary job or lifestyle to keep constipation in check
- Eat plenty of high fiber foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, dry fruits such as prunes, whole grain cereals and bread.
- Drink plenty of water and liquids to increase roughage. Give prune juice a try
- Avoid caffeine, refined foods and spicy foods in excess
The final word
Ointments and creams may not bring much relief to hemorrhoids contrary to popular belief and instead can cause allergic reactions in some people. Pregnant women in particular should consult their doctor before taking any OTC remedies. In mild cases hemorrhoids do not require treatment other than taking basic steps to prevent it from worsening. However if hemorrhoids persist or recur they may need to be cut, tied or frozen out. If you have lasting pain or discomfort and home remedies do not seem to do the trick, check with your doctor on what may work.