Thomas P. Sokol, MD, FACS, FASCRS
Thomas P. Sokol, MD, FACS, FASCRS
Thomas P. Sokol, MD received his medical degree from the University of Health Sciences/The Chicago Medical School in 1980. He went on to his general surgical residency at Harbor/UCLA Medical Center and then to the Carle Clinic/ University of Illinois for Fellowship Training in Colon and Rectal Surgery.
In this Article
What is the treatment for hemorrhoids?
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Hemorrhoids are treated with a variety of measures including over-the-counter medicine (creams, lotions, gels, pads, wipes, etc.), procedures (sclerotherapy, rubber band ligation, etc.), and surgery.
It is believed generally that constipation and straining to have bowel movements promote hemorrhoids and that hard stools can traumatize existing hemorrhoids. It is recommended, therefore, that individuals with hemorrhoids soften their stools by increasing the fiber in their diets. Fiber is found in numerous foodstuffs including fresh and dried fruits, vegetables, grains, and cereals. Generally 20-30 grams per day of fiber are recommended whereas the average American diet contains less than 15 grams of fiber. Supplemental fiber (psyllium, methylcellulose, or calcium polycarbophil) also may be used to increase the intake of fiber. Stool softeners and increased drinking of liquids also may be recommended. Nevertheless, there is no strong, scientific support for the benefits of fiber, liquids, or stool softeners.
Diarrhea is believed to aggravate the symptoms of hemorrhoids and it is recommended that diarrhea be controlled with fiber and anti-motility drugs.
Over-the-counter medications for hemorrhoids
Many over-the-counter products are sold for the treatment of hemorrhoids. These often contain the same drugs that are used for treating anal symptoms such as itching or discomfort. There are few studies showing that they do anything for hemorrhoids. They probably only reduce the symptoms of hemorrhoids. It is possible, however, that their effectiveness relates to their treatment of anal conditions other than hemorrhoids, for example, idiopathic anal itching, that often accompany hemorrhoids.
Products used for the treatment of hemorrhoids are available as ointments, creams, gels, suppositories, foams, and pads. Ointments, creams, and gels - when used around the anus - should be applied as a thin covering. When applied to the anal canal, these products should be inserted with a finger or a "pile pipe." Pile pipes are most efficient when they have holes on the sides as well as at the end. Pile pipes should be lubricated with ointment prior to insertion. Suppositories or foams do not have advantages over ointments, creams, and gels.
Most products contain more than one type of active ingredient. Almost all contain a protectant in addition to another ingredient. Only examples of brand-name products containing one ingredient in addition to the protectant are discussed below.
Local anesthetics: Local anesthetics temporarily relieve pain, burning, and itching by numbing the nerve endings. The use of these products should be limited to the perianal area and lower anal canal. Local anesthetics can cause allergic reactions with burning and itching; therefore, if burning and itching increase with the application of anesthetics, they should be discontinued.
Local anesthetics include:
Vasoconstrictors: Vasoconstrictors are chemicals that resemble epinephrine, a naturally occurring chemical. Applied to the anus, vasoconstrictors make the blood vessels become smaller, which may reduce swelling. They also may reduce pain and itching due to their mild anesthetic effect. Vasoconstrictors applied to the perianal area - unlike vasoconstrictors that are taken orally or by injection - have a low likelihood of causing serious side effects, such as high blood pressure, nervousness, tremor, sleeplessness, and aggravation of diabetes or hyperthyroidism.
Protectants: Protectants prevent irritation of the perianal area by forming a physical barrier on the skin that prevents contact of the irritated skin with aggravating liquid or stool from the rectum. This barrier reduces irritation, itching, pain, and burning. There are many products that are themselves protectants or that contain a protectant in addition to other medications.
Astringents: Astringents cause coagulation (clumping) of proteins in the cells of the perianal skin or the lining of the anal canal. This action promotes dryness of the skin, which in turn helps relieve burning, itching, and pain.
Antiseptics: Antiseptics inhibit the growth of bacteria and other organisms. However, it is unclear whether antiseptics are any more effective than soap and water.
Examples of antiseptics include:
Keratolytics: Keratolytics are chemicals that cause the outer layers of skin or other tissues to disintegrate. The rationale for their use is that the disintegration allows medications that are applied to the anus and perianal area to penetrate into the deeper tissues.
The two approved keratolytics used are:
Analgesics: Analgesic products, like anesthetic products, relieve pain, itching, and burning by depressing receptors on pain nerves.
Examples of analgesics include:
Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids reduce inflammation and can relieve itching, but their chronic use can cause permanent damage to the skin. They should not be used for more than short periods of a few days to two weeks. Only products with weak corticosteroid effects are available over-the-counter. Stronger corticosteroid products that are available by prescription should not be used for treating hemorrhoids.
Reviewed by Jay W. Marks, MD on 1/31/2013
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