We live in a day and age where a sedentary lifestyle is more the norm than exception and stress, obesity, and sickness (especially those related to unhealthy lifestyles) are all unwelcome yet constant guests that most of us are all too familiar with. Today, we’re going to focus on one such condition that may not seem too serious at first glance, but can be painful, annoying and decapitating in its occurrence. Unsavory as it may seem, we’re going to discuss hemorrhoids, covering the what, why, how, where, treatments and recovery.
What Are Hemorrhoids?
An accurate diagnosis of the disease is half the problem solved, and for an accurate diagnosis, it’s important to know the full details of the problem, especially what it is and what its symptoms are. Well, hemorrhoids, also commonly known as “piles”, are swollen veins (dilated or engorged with blood) in and around the area of your lower rectum or anus. This stretching of the blood vessels causes the veins to bulge and get irritated, resulting in pain, bleeding and irritation.
It’s also important to know that there are two different kinds of hemorrhoids:
Signs and Symptoms of Internal Hemorrhoids
These guys, as the name suggests, occur internally, deep within the rectum. Invisible from outside (obviously!), internal hemorrhoids are generally painless and the only way to identify their presence is rectal bleeding. Sometimes, straining your anus, especially during bowel movements, can push out an internal hemorrhoid, causing what is called a “protruding” or “prolapsed” hemorrhoid, which can be extremely painful!
Signs and Symptoms of External Hemorrhoids
External hemorrhoids occur under the skin of the anus, but are visible to the naked eye. This kind of hemorrhoid is generally more painful than the internal ones, as the nerves in this regions are more sensitive.
Unpleasant as they seem, hemorrhoids is actually a very common condition. Statistics say that at least 75% of all Americans will have hemorrhoids at some time, especially pregnant women and those between the ages of 45 and 65.
Causes of Hemorrhoids?
Though we earlier stated that sedentary lifestyles and obesity are causes of hemorrhoids, they aren’t the only reasons you could find yourself experiencing the condition. Hemorrhoids could occur due to a variety of reasons, such as:
Conditions that irritate your bowels, such as chronic diarrhea and chronic constipation, result in more stress on your anal region. This could lead to the formation of hemorrhoids due to the additional pressure on the walls of blood vessels in the anal region.
By sitting, we mean both a sedentary lifestyle as well as sitting for too long on the toilet! Long hours of work can lead to sitting, which pressurizes the veins in your anus, and when there’s prolonged pressure, there’s almost certainly hemorrhoids. As for sitting for too long on the toilet, though you may be carried away with finishing your morning newspaper or attending to your correspondence to save time while on the toilet, it’s a move that many doctors don’t recommend for its ability to result in hemorrhoids. The position you assume while sitting on the toilet is a sure way to make your veins stretch and bulge, the starting step in hemorrhoid formation.
Ladies, we know. This one might seem a little unfair. You’re already going through nine months of hard work that’s going to result in an explosion of pain, so why the additional stress of hemorrhoids? Why, God, why? And why, Eve, why? Well, unfortunately, hemorrhoids occur more commonly in pregnant women, especially in the third trimester because the uterus enlarges, pressurizing the veins in your colon and causing them to bulge. Sometimes, pregnancy hormones can also pressurize the veins. However, not every woman is unlucky enough to go through pregnancy hemorrhoids, so let’s take back the blaspheming and pray to be one of the few lucky ones, shall we?
This one seems inevitable, people. As already mentioned, hemorrhoids are most common in adults between the ages of 45 and 65. This happens because as we age, our bodies slow down, leading to more sedentary lifestyles as well as reduced blood flow to the anal region. Elderly people are also more prone to constipation, which causes strain on the veins.
Lifting heavy objects repeatedly can lead to hemorrhoids, and yes, this does include your gym sessions! If you’re in a profession where you need to lift weights on a regular basis (such as a construction site worker, gym instructor or mine worker), you’re giving yourself a chance to develop hemorrhoids. Though we know the job needs to be done, try not lifting weights on a regular basis. And if you’re a gym rat with an affinity for weight lifting, make sure you intersperse your sessions with other, non-weight-lifting workouts as well, so you don’t find yourself ridden with hemorrhoids!
This one’s a personal choice and no one’s judging you for it (nor can they or should they!). However, hemorrhoids are a risk you should be aware of, especially if this is a position that you find yourself in often, as it can cause stress on your veins or worsen existing hemorrhoids.
A phenomenon that’s a common occurrence on many “cause” lists of multiple diseases, it’s no surprise that obesity can be a cause of hemorrhoids as well. However, the good news is that generally, only diet-related obesity results in hemorrhoids, such as not consuming enough fiber.
Hemorrhoids can also be caused by genetics. A tendency to develop hemorrhoids can run in the family! Another obvious cause could fiber-related, which leads to constipation (in cases of low-fiber consumption) and diarrhea (in cases of excessive fiber consumption).
Warning Signs of Hemorrhoids
Okay, we may have cheated on the subheading a little bit, but warning signs or symptoms of hemorrhoids are especially important to know, as internal hemorrhoids can only be identified through symptoms. Hemorrhoids can result in the following symptoms:
- Painful bowel movements
- Rectal bleeding or bloody stools
- Swelling or lumps around your anus
- Itching, irritation and pain in your anal region
- Fecal leakage
The symptoms of hemorrhoids may also depend on the type of hemorrhoid you have. Rectal bleeding is more common in the case of internal or prolapsed hemorrhoids. External hemorrhoids result in itching, lumps, and pain especially while sitting.
However, it’s important to remember that not every anal symptom is caused by hemorrhoids. Rectal bleeding can also be a sign of other digestive tract problems, such as cancer of the colon or rectum, or ulcerative colitis.
How Are Hemorrhoids Treated?
Hemorrhoids can be identified by doctors through a visual examination and checks, known as “Digital Rectal Exams”, for any abnormalities within the anus. In the case of any abnormality, an additional test called a “sigmoidoscopy” may be advised. A sigmoidoscopy involves the usage of a small fiber-optic camera (called a “sigmoidoscope”) that is inserted into the rectum to observe internal hemorrhoids.
One thing to remember with hemorrhoids is that though they may be painful and troublesome, they are generally non-threatening and can disappear on their own without treatment, especially if they are small. All hemorrhoids don’t require medical attention. A change in diet and lifestyle can prevent any further occurrence of hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids that occur during pregnancy may disappear or last only until the birth of the baby. However, prolapsed hemorrhoids may need professional treatment, in which case, many treatment options are available.
Minor hemorrhoids can be treated at home, and if not, the pain may be minimized in the following ways:
A soak in a warm tub of water for at least 10 minutes a day can give you relief not only from the stress of a long day at work, but also any pain from hemorrhoids that you may be experiencing. Sitting on a hot-water bag or a bottle of warm water can also relieve the pain of external hemorrhoids.
There are also several over-the-counter creams and medicines, such hydrocortisone, that can be used to relieve the burning and itching, and several painkillers such as aspirin and ibuprofen that can relieve the pain. However, these should be used with caution (ideally, in consultation with a doctor) and only if you are 100% sure of the usage. You can also use fiber supplements such psyllium and methylcellulose to ease bowel movements, which may result in the disappearance of hemorrhoids, especially in cases of constipation.
Good Personal Hygiene
Cleaning your anus with warm water, without soap, can help maintain good personal hygiene and prevent hemorrhoids. Rubbing and vigorous cleaning of the anal region only aggravates hemorrhoids, so try to avoid using rough or dry toilet paper.
A cold compress on the anal region can help reduce hemorrhoid swelling.
Professional Treatment Procedures
If your hemorrhoids are on the more serious side, such as severe internal or prolapsed hemorrhoids, you may need the help of a doctor to help treat them. In such cases, the following treatment options are available:
Rubber Band Ligation
A “Rubber Band Ligation” process involves cutting off the blood circulation to the hemorrhoid by placing a rubber band around it. The resulting loss of blood forces the hemorrhoid to shrink and fall off within 1 or 2 weeks.
Also called “Sclerotherapy”, this procedure involves your doctor injecting a chemical into the blood vessel directly, causing it to reduce in size.
This very complicated-sounding process is actually quite simple. Doctors use an infrared-light-directing tool at the internal hemorrhoid to cut off its blood supply and shrink it. (Though we’re tempted to bring up Star Wars light sabers, we won’t!)
Electrocoagulation involves the passing of an electric current with the use of a tool into an internal hemorrhoid, causing the formation of scar tissue, which then cuts off the blood supply and shrinks the hemorrhoid. Shocking, we know!
This treatment may be necessary in the case of really large external or severely prolapsed hemorrhoids that remain persistent in the face of other treatment.
This painful-sounding process involves the removal of the internal hemorrhoid tissues or pull a prolapsing internal hemorrhoid back into the anus using a special stapling tool. (Yes, we agree. Sounds like a medieval torture method. But it’s actually quite painless given the use of anesthesia.)
Sometimes, surgical extraction is also a possibility, in the case that the hemorrhoid is severe and doesn’t respond to other treatments. Hemorrhoid complications (such as anemia, blood clots and strangulated hemorrhoids) can also occur, which may require professional care. However, be warned! These procedures are performed only by professionals. Do not try them at home!
Keeping Away the Hemorrhoids!
Though it might sound like hemorrhoids are an inevitable occurrence sometime in your life, they can indeed be prevented! A few lifestyle and diet changes here and there can go a long way in preventing hemorrhoids. We give you a lowdown on the many steps you can take to prevent hemorrhoids:
Drink Plenty of Water
Water is indeed the magical element that can keep away most diseases a day. In fact, it should have been “A liter of water a day keeps the doctor away”. Anyway, point is, drink plenty of water, as it aids in easing bowel movements by keeping your stools soft.
Eat a Fiber-rich Diet
This one’s a no-brainer. Fiber helps in easing bowel movements, a fact that is well-known! Many foods such as whole wheat, oatmeal, brown rice, carrots and bran are all great sources of protein. However, ensure you don’t go overboard with the fiber intake, as that can result in diarrhea.
Don’t Fight the Urge
When you feel the need to use the restroom and empty your bowels, do so! Don’t try postponing your bathroom break as that causes unnecessary pressure and results in hemorrhoids. Bowel movements are a natural part of human life and absolutely nothing to shy away from. And if you don’t feel the urge, don’t try forcing out the contents of your digestive tract. Remember, hardly anything good ever came from forcing!
Exercising regularly helps prevent constipation and also helps reduce the tendency to lead a sedentary lifestyle as well as keep the weight down. Take a break from sitting for long periods of time and don’t get carried away with your smartphone during restroom breaks. The latter will also help you not strain your bowels while passing stools.
Another thing that could help keep away hemorrhoids is using a small stool under your feet while on the toilet, so as to change the position of the rectum. Also, pregnant women could try sleeping on their side instead of on their backs, which goes a long way in helping to ease the pressure on the colon and veins in the anal region. Lastly, as dry or rough toilet paper can aggravate hemorrhoids, moist toilet paper is a great option.
The Tail End!
We’ve already told you that hemorrhoids are common in 75% of all people. That’s the bad news! The good news though is that hemorrhoids, painful and irritating as they may be, are harmless enough unless aggravated. As your grandparents probably said, there’s nothing a good diet and lifestyle can’t solve! However, a point to remember is that hemorrhoids can be a recurring phenomenon. If symptoms or the conditions persist, medical attention may be required.
Hopefully, this article has shed enough light on what could happen in places where not enough light is shed! Bad puns aside, we’ve all probably done at least one of the things that we’ve mentioned could cause hemorrhoids. Rectal and anal health is something that is often ignored or taken for granted. So pay a little more attention to all aspects of your health and you could be saving yourself a world of pain!