No one likes to talk about hemorrhoids or piles – and even fewer seek help to treat this painful condition. Indeed, from the sparse information on hemorrhoids in magazines and newspapers, one might think that hemorrhoids are rare. Actually, hemorrhoids may be one of the most prevalent ailments in the United States. If you are suffering silently from hemorrhoids, you are not alone. It’s estimated that about 100 million Americans are suffering with you. In fact, more than half of the US population develops hemorrhoids by the age of 50!
What are the symptoms of hemorrhoids?
All of us have hemorrhoidal veins in the anal area, both inside and outside of the anus. In hemorrhoids, these veins are irritated and swollen, causing hemorrhoids symptoms such as pain, itching, bleeding, burning sensation and general discomfort.
There are two types of hemorrhoids:
- External hemorrhoids
In external hemorrhoids (or hemorrhoids outside of the anus), swollen veins form a soft lump around the anal opening. If blood clot develops, this lump would turn hard or become painful thromboses hemorrhoids. External hemorrhoids are usually very painful, since the skin tissue around the anus is densely covered with nerve endings.
- Internal hemorrhoids
Internal hemorrhoids, on the other hand, are usually not painful because of the lack of nerve endings inside the anal canal. Indeed, most people are not aware of their internal hemorrhoids until they become irritated and bleed during bowel movement. Here, hard stool rubbing against internal hemorrhoids cause them to rupture, resulting in blood on the stool, toilet paper, or even droplets of bright red blood in the toilet bowl.
Internal hemorrhoids can “prolapse” or become pushed outside of the anal opening. In rare instances, the sphincter muscle can go into spasm and trap the prolapsed hemorrhoids outside of the anus. This cuts the blood circulation into the strangulated hemorrhoids. Prolapsed and strangulated hemorrhoids are serious conditions that require immediate medical attention.
Likewise, bleeding of any amount from the anus should be checked by a doctor since it may be due to cancer or other serious medical conditions.
What are the causes of hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids are most likely caused by diet and straining on the toilet. Actually, these two factors are linked: eating bad food leads to constipation, which leads to straining on the toilet.
It has been suggested that the Western diet, which is rich in processed food and lacking in fiber, also contributes to hemorrhoids. Indeed, hemorrhoids are rare in less-developed African countries where the diet is rich in roughage and fiber. As the population in these countries change their diet to include more processed food, the incidence of hemorrhoids increase.
The style of the modern toilet, unfortunately, encourages straining. Some people also read while sitting on the toilet, adding undue pressure to the anal veins.
Other factors that contribute to hemorrhoids include aging, heredity, bouts of diarrhea, using laxatives. For women, pregnancy is often a factor as the fetus puts pressure on the hemorrhoidal veins.
Fortunately, in most instances, hemorrhoids self-heal. This means that unless you do something to cause flare ups (i.e. continue to strain when defecating or have chronic constipation or diarrhea) most hemorrhoids resolve themselves without any intervention.
However, the weakened walls of the distended veins in hemorrhoids will cause them to be prone to future flare ups. This is why people say once you have hemorrhoids, you’ll always hemorrhoids.
Prevention of Hemorrhoids
If you are lucky enough not to have hemorrhoids, there are some things you can do to prevent them. Even if you already have hemorrhoids, it is possible to prevent flare ups. These include:
- Change your diet to include more bran or fiber and drinking more water
Refined or processed foods typically have little fiber content and lots of animal fats. These types of food do not have enough roughage for the intestine to pass the stool easily, thus leading to straining on the toilet. Instead, eat more bran, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Avoid foods that may cause indigestion, cause gas and flatulence, or diarrhea.
Drinking more water also makes stool softer. In addition to reducing straining, passing softer stool is also less likely to irritate existing hemorrhoids.
- Change your bowel habit
Don’t wait when “nature calls”, otherwise your stool can dry or harden, thus more difficult to pass.
Also, avoid straining, as well as sitting and reading on the toilet. Most of the time, it takes only 2 to 5 minutes to pass stool. Wash the anus well after the urge is gone and leave the toilet.
- Exercise and don’t sit around for too long
Keeping an active lifestyle can help reduce the pressure on the veins and keep you from getting constipated.
Sitting or standing for too long can add undue pressure to hemorrhoidal veins. Take frequent breaks from your desk job and move around to prevent hemorrhoids.