Hemorrhoids, or piles, are swollen veins that develop in the lower rectum or under the skin around the anus. They are usually caused by straining during bowel movements or related to increased pressure on the veins in the rectal area. Symptoms include itching, pain, irritation and bleeding during or after bowel movements. Home treatment involves increasing dietary fiber and fluids, to keep stools soft and easy to pass, avoiding straining during bowel movements, and managing pain and discomfort. Soaking in Epsom salt, a magnesium sulfate compound, may be a helpful way to relieve the discomfort associated with hemorrhoids.
Fill a clean bathtub with at least 6 inches of warm water. Alternatively, you can use a sitz bath kit, which is a plastic basin that fits over the toilet, or a warm compress applied to the anal area.
If filling a bathtub, add 1 cup Epsom salt for every 6 inches of water. If you are using a sitz bath or a compress, use a solution of 1/4 cup Epsom salt per 4 cups of warm water. Mix the water until all of the salt is dissolved.
Comfortably sit in the bathtub, or use the sitz bath, for 15 to 20 minutes. Or soak a washcloth in the salt solution, remove excess water, and apply to the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes. Repeat every few hours or as needed if this helps with symptom relief.
After your soak or compress, allow your rectal area to air dry, or gently pat the area with a soft towel. Another option is to use a hair dryer -- on a low setting -- to quickly dry the area. Be careful not to rub with a towel, or allow the rectal area to stay moist, as this can worsen irritation.
If your doctor has recommended a medication or cream, apply this after drying your rectal area. Follow the package or prescription directions for application.
Stop using Epsom salt if you have any worsening of itching, inflammation or pain, or if you experience any hives or swelling.
Epsom salt soaks are generally safe to use, and may improve your symptoms. However, research has not shown these salts have a particular advantage in reducing the pain or irritation from hemorrhoids.
If you are experiencing hemorrhoids for the first time, see your doctor for an evaluation and treatment plan. If you have a history of hemorrhoids, and experience an increase in pain, swelling, bleeding or discomfort, see your doctor. Your doctor may recommend topical medications, and in some cases a procedure is needed to shrink or remove large or painful hemorrhoids. Seek urgent medical care if you have severe anal pain and bleeding from your rectum, and if you have symptoms of hemorrhoids along with diarrhea, fever or pain in your abdomen.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD
Sandra Ketcham has nearly two decades of experience writing and editing for major websites and magazines. Her work appears in numerous web and print publications, including "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution," "The Tampa Bay Times," Visit Florida, "USA Today," AOL's Gadling and "Kraze Magazine."