Hemorrhoids; The Torment Nobody Wants to Talk About

Hemorrhoids can leave you feel embarrassed and ashamed, but you're not alone and there are ways to be kind to your behind

Hemorrhoids. Ugh. Just the mention of that word turns faces red and eyes quickly avert other gazes, or prompts some sort of "pain in the ass" jokes to cover embarrassment. Yet they are a common medical condition, especially during pregnancy or after giving birth, and shouldn't be a dirty secret. Yes, they occur in a private  part of the body, but that doesn't make them shameful. Knowing more about what they are and how to treat them can make having them easier to manage.

Hemorrhoids are swollen, inflamed veins inside your rectum or anus and invisible (internal) or visible on the outside (external) of your anus, or both. No matter where they are located, the burning, itching, pain and sometimes bleeding that they cause are nothing to giggle about like we did as kids when Preparation H commercials came on TV.

The leading causes of hemorrhoids are the pushing required to give birth, straining to poop or pressure on the rectum from pregnancy or being overweight. Two of these causes are unavoidable if you want to have a baby, but that doesn't mean hemorrhoids are a guaranteed outcome, or even something that will last—many women never get them and those who do often find they disappear or become asymptomatic after post-partum healing is complete. There are numerous ways you can minimize your risk of having hemorrhoids as well as many simple treatments that can alleviate the discomfort if you do have them.

Straining or holding our breath to push out a poop is something we all have done in times of occasional constipation, but this is a big creator of hemorrhoids as well. One of the best ways to keep your bowels soft and moving easily without too much strain is drinking the proverbial eight glasses of water per day. Eating a diet with fibre-rich foods, fruits and veggies also helps move your bowels comfortably along, or you can take a fibre supplement with lots of water throughout the day. Without plenty of water, the supplements can actually cause further constipation. Over-the-counter stool softeners can provide relief, but don't take them on a long-term basis and always ask your doctor about taking any medications if you are pregnant or nursing. Sitting or standing for too long or being overweight creates pressure that can exacerbate hemorrhoids, so keep moving! If you pinch your cheeks for as long as you can when you feel the urge to do a Number Two, stop that! The Mayo Clinic advises that not going when your body tells you to can cause your stool to become dry and harder to pass, creating more strain.

Despite our best efforts, hemorrhoids can happen. If they do, there is one simple rule to keep in mind: Be kind to your behind! In addition to all the preventative suggestions above, which also help control symptoms, there are over-the-counter ointments and wipes at your pharmacy containing witch hazel to soothe and shrink inflammation, or prescription-strength ones, if needed. Don't scratch or rub the pain or itching; gently pat or press with the wipe. Use baby wipes free of alcohol or perfumes instead of toilet paper after you poop—trust me, your behind will thank you, and doing so even if you aren't feeling any pain or itching can sometimes help prevent a new flare-up. The Mayo Clinic also suggests warm baths a few times a day and keeping the area clean and dry after the bath. Yes, you can use a hair dryer on low heat to dry yourself there, and wear cotton underwear for extra dryness, avoiding thong styles. A sitz bath can be purchased if you want to soak only the affected area, and adding Epsom salts to baths can give further relief.

Alternatively, a cold compress using ice chips or an ice pack wrapped in a clean, washable cloth or thin towel are often helpful (never use tissues or toilet paper, which leave remnants) especially if you're feeling a burning sensation. There is even a small device you can purchase online and freeze for insertion to give some cool comfort. That may seem extreme to those who haven't agonized over the physical and psychological torture of hemorrhoids, but the reality of the physical symptoms along with the feelings of shame, embarrassment and helplessness often leave sufferers willing to try just about anything. Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool should always be discussed with your doctor and if home or prescription remedies don't alleviate the irritation, your doctor can suggest medical procedures or surgical options for you to consider.

Hemorrhoids are not a rare medical condition, and some estimates guess almost half of all adults aged fifty or older will experience them. While that probably doesn't ease symptoms or make your hemorrhoids go away, knowing you're not alone and having treatment options can at least put your mind, and hopefully your behind, at ease. 

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