Hemorrhoids: causes and home remedies

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Hemorrhoids: causes and home remedies

What do you think is the etymology of the phrase "pain in the ass"? I know it for sure.

What do you think is the etymology of the phrase "pain in the ass"? I know it for sure. Hemorrhoids can be an annoying condition and also an embarrassing subject for conversation, as we tend to avoid talking about what goes on in that region of our body. Well, let’s overcome this awkwardness and get straight to the heart, or the bottom, of the matter.

I was about 30 when I first encountered hemorrhoids. At first I discovered a small bump sticking out of my anus, which didn’t hurt. A few days later it became sore and painful. I felt really bad and was scared to death when I saw blood on the toilet paper after wiping.

It was horribly painful and at the same time it brought a lot of inconvenience, beginning with trouble in defecating and ending with problems in sitting and walking. The protruding part of my anal canal, which is the terminal part of the rectum, would rub against my buttocks. The bump swelled to the size of a hazelnut.

Today I cannot recall for sure what caused the trouble (but I still remember how it feels). Maybe it was the hot summer, the lifting of some heavy load, or a side-effect of diarrhea or constipation. As a matter of fact these are the most common causes of hemorrhoids. Among other factors influencing this morbid state are infrequent, difficult or incomplete evacuation of hardened feces from the bowels, and decreased frequency of defecation, which, in turn, can be caused by bad nutritional habits. In women it often occurs during pregnancy, when the growing fetus pushes against the blood vessels.

From a scientific point of view it looks like this: the problem occurs in the anal area, which is richly supplied by blood vessels. If those vessels are put under too much pressure, they swell and produce outgrowths, called hemorrhoids, which are also known as piles or bumps. They can remain inside the body or protrude out through the anus (protruding hemorrhoids). In the latter case they tend to be more painful. Internal hemorrhoids may not be noticed until they occasionally bleed.

What exactly causes hemorrhoids is still a subject for much debate. Most people associate them with constipation and with excessive straining to produce bowel movements. It’s easy to see how that can put pressure on the veins.

Indirectly, anything that causes constipation can be blamed. That includes a low-fiber diet, obesity and lack of exercise. Other suggested influences include genetic factors and drugs. Even taking iron tablets can cause constipation and, in turn, hemorrhoids. I’m also pretty convinced from my own experience that stress can be a factor as well.

Accepting that constipation is usually involved, we must start by doing everything we can to avoid that problem. A healthy diet, rich in fiber, is the first thing we need, along with plenty of water and not too much salt. Losing excess weight and taking exercise will also help, but avoid any high-pressure activities such as heavy lifting.

We should also make sure we go to the toilet as soon as we need to, even if the hemorrhoids make it hurt. But we shouldn’t sit there for a long time waiting for something to happen or – worse still – straining to make something happen, as that will put pressure on those veins. We need to keep the hemorrhoids and anal area clean and dry but we have to avoid rubbing as that will cause irritation and make things worse.

A number of home remedies help with cleanliness while at the same time relieving the painful symptoms. One idea commonly mentioned on the Internet is the sitz bath: just sit in a warm bath, with nothing added to the water, for about 20 minutes after each bowel movement. But I am not sure that the warm water will help a lot. Maybe just tepid? In my experience cool or even cold water is much better.

After washing or bathing, pat your bottom dry with a soft towel or use a hair dryer (preferably with heater off) for even gentler drying. Baby powder or, as a more natural alternative, corn starch, will help to get things dry.

You can buy hemorrhoid creams from pharmacists but there are many more homely alternatives such as witch hazel, aloe vera, vitamin E oil or yarrow. I’ve seen a number of recipes for similar treatments, including one containing goldenseal root, bayberry, white oak and myrrh. Enemas are apparently another option in the case of constipation but I cannot advise you on that subject as I don't have any personal experience.

When the pain is particularly intense, placing an ice pack against the affected area for a few minutes will help to soothe it and reduce the swelling. Sit on a cushion rather than a hard chair and always resist the temptation to scratch. Surgery is probably not the best option but is available as a last resort.

Be aware that spicy foods, strong coffee, cola and beer can cause itchiness when their breakdown products reach the anus. On the other hand, alternative medicine suppliers have capsules or teas containing products such as stone root, collinsonia root, red grapevine leaves, parsley and buckthorn bark which are said to help the condition.

Now that we know a little about the risk factors and commonly used remedies, let's get back to my story.

I tried many different treatments with more or less success. But for me, some of the most powerful "weapons" against hemorrhoids appeared to be, quite simply, ordinary wet wipes and, as I said before, cold water.

As soon as I feel the first symptoms I use the wet wipes after the toilet paper to clean the anus effectively and then stuff the protruding parts in, so they go back to their proper position. Every time I take a shower I use cold water to help with my veins and muscle contraction. As soon as I feel the first symptoms I use the wet wipes after the toilet paper to clean the anus effectively and then stuff the protruding parts in, to their proper position. Every time I take a shower I use cold water to help with my veins and muscle contraction.

And one more important remark: make it a habit to keep your buttock muscles tensed, and don't let the hemorrhoids drop outside the anus. This is especially important when you are coughing, sneezing, lifting heavy weights or straining in any other way.

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