Oh, the pain of hemorrhoids! It’s not a subject most people like to talk about, but the sting of hemorrhoids is very real. No one knows exactly how many Americans are affected by this condition since hemorrhoid sufferers are often too embarrassed to admit they have this “unmentionable” problem. Instead they use home remedies like hemorrhoid creams and sitz baths for hemorrhoids. What exactly are sitz baths – and how do they relieve hemorrhoid symptoms?
What Is It?
A sitz bath is a bath where only the hips and buttocks are submerged in warm water. They’re classically used to treat hemorrhoids, but doctors sometimes recommend them to new moms after childbirth and to ease the pain of some types of vaginal and prostate conditions.
The simplest way to take a sitz bath for hemorrhoids is to buy a specially designed sitz bath bowl from a pharmacy. These bowls are made to fit over the toilet, so you can sit with only your hips and buttocks submerged in the water. Some of the more expensive ones have tubing to continuously add warm water. If you don’t have access to a sitz bath bowl, you can use any large bowl that's at least eight inches deep. Fill the bowl about a third full of water that’s very warm but not uncomfortable. Once the bowl is filled, sit in it for fifteen minutes or until the water cools down. Do this two to three times a day or as directed by your doctor.
According to Dr. Scott Thornton M.D. publishing on Medscape.com, using a sitz bath bowl, which fits tightly around the hips and buttocks, causes blood to pool in the veins in the anal region, which may worsen the discomfort. A better option to get relief without causing this type of venous congestion is to sit in a warm bathtub using a soft inflatable donut as a cushion.
How Does a Sitz Bath Work for Hemorrhoids?
The warmth of the water increases blood flow to the hemorrhoids and reduces spasm of the sphincter muscle, which can be a problem with internal hemorrhoids. There’s something soothing about soaking irritated tissues in warm water, so many patients find it psychologically satisfying.
Some doctors recommend adding salt to a sitz bath to help treat the hemorrhoids. If so, sea salt or Epsom salts are better choices than table salt, since most table salt contains iodine. Add between one-third to one-half cup of salt to each quart of water before soaking.
The Bottom Line?
Sitz baths for hemorrhoids are soothing and help to relieve the pain and discomfort of this common and often painful condition. Before using a sitz bath, see your doctor, and make sure hemorrhoids are causing your symptoms and not something more serious – just to be safe.
Medscape.com. “Hemorrhoids Treatment and Management”
Merck Manual. Eighteenth edition. 2006.