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Q&A: Dealing with Hemorrhoids

Q. This is embarrassing -- my hemorrhoids are killing me! Is there any way to treat them safely?

A. Welcome to the sisterhood of mothers-to-be. Most women have hemorrhoids during pregnancy because their blood vessels are swollen with a higher blood volume than usual. Think of hemorrhoids as varicose veins in your rectal area that tend to be itchy or painful. The extra blood volume can cause hemorrhoids to plump up to the size of a marble, and your growing uterus exerts more pressure on the pelvic veins, increasing the swelling.

To ease your discomfort, try alternating ice packs with warm-water soaks. That doesn't mean you have to fill an entire bathtub every time; you can buy a small plastic tub (called a "sitz bath") at the drugstore. Fill it with warm water and position it over your toilet so that you can sit in the water several times a day. Some women get relief from witch hazel, which can be used to medicate a cold compress.

Using unscented, white toilet tissue can lessen irritation, and it might help to wet the tissue before you wipe your rectal area. You can also buy specially medicated moist towelettes to use instead of toilet tissue. If the pain or itching becomes intolerable, ask your practitioner to suggest a safe medicated suppository or topical anesthetic. You also might want to ask your provider about a fiber supplement or stool softener, because constipation and straining can aggravate hemorrhoid discomfort. Avoid sitting or standing for long stretches of time and lie on your left side while sleeping or watching TV to take some of the pressure off your rectal veins.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

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