Q: I think I might have hemorrhoids now that I'm pregnant. What's causing this, and what can I do?
A: Many women experience hemorrhoids for the first time during pregnancy. Often described as varicose veins of the rectum, they occur when blood vessels in and around your rectum become stretched and swollen. While we don't know exactly what causes hemorrhoids during pregnancy, hormonal changes, decreased blood return from the lower body (due to the enlarging uterus pressing on the larger veins from the pelvis), and chronic constipation are all contributing factors. You can even get hemorrhoids from the intense pushing you'll have to do to deliver your baby. How do you know you have hemorrhoids? Two types of hemorrhoids can occur during pregnancy -- internal and external. Internal hemorrhoids can cause painless, light-colored blood around your stool or on your toilet paper after wiping. Occasionally, these internal hemorrhoids can protrude, and you will feel soft swollen masses when wiping. External hemorrhoids can cause painful, hard lumps around your rectum. Although hemorrhoids are not dangerous to your or your baby, you should tell your doctor about any rectal bleeding that lasts more than a day or two. If you get a hemorrhoid flare-up, it will probably only last a few days, but during that time there are several ways to feel better: - Sit in a warm sitz bath for 15 minutes several times a day, especially after going #2. - Apply ice packs to the area to minimize swelling. - Use witch hazel pads to wipe after going to the bathroom. - Avoid straining by eating foods rich in fiber (like veggies, fruits, and whole-grain cereals) and taking stool softeners. - Drink plenty of fluids (at least six to eight glasses a day). While we know that hemorrhoids are (literally) a pain in the you-know-what, there is a silver lining to this cloud. Unlike chronic hemorrhoids, pregnancy-related cases are almost always temporary, and should go away after your baby's born.