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Don't take hemorrhoids sitting down.


Sooner or later almost everyone suffers from hemorrhoids. At least 8 out of 10, or some 191 million, Americans develop this annoying and painful medical problem at some time during their lives. So don't be embarrassed about hemorrhoids; the more you know about them, the easier it will be to recognize their symptoms and get relief.

Hemorrhoids are small veins that have become enlarged and swollen around the rectum and anus. The rectum is the final, or lowest, part of the large bowel, which is surrounded by a circle of muscle that stretches and then tightens to force the solid waste products of digestion (stool or bowel movement) down and out through the anus. Veins around the rectum and anus often swell and become inflamed, develop small blood clots, and cause minor bleeding.

There are actually two kinds of hemorrhoids: external and internal. Some people suffer from both.

External hemorrhoids are located just outside the opening of the anus. They develop under the skin and feel like "soft swellings.' They are round, purple, and often tender to the touch. External hemorrhoids can become painful and itchy, especially during and after a bowel movement.

Internal hemorrhoids are not so easily detected. They develop farther up, inside the rectum, and are rarely painful. Often you may not be aware of them until they start to bleed. Internal hemorrhoids may, however, become quite painful when hard bowel movements push out through the anus, causing strain on the hemorrhoids.

Physicians once believed homorrhoids to be a form of varicose vein, but recent studies suggest that they are actually a necessary part of our normal anatomy. Dr. Denis Burkitt, the author of Eat Right to Keep Healthy and Enjoy Life More, says hemorrhoids appear to be natural enlargements in the veins of the rectum, "vascular cushions' that help keep the anal opening watertight. "Hemorrhoids, apart from complications, are no more pathological than lips,' he says.

Unfortunately, complications do arise frequently, mainly because of pressure that irritates and dislodges the tiny veins. The pressure may come in part from the stress of walking upright (hemorrhoid problems don't seem to occur in quadrupeds), but other pressures from constipation, diarrhea, lifting, coughing, sitting for long periods, obesity, and pregnancy add to the problem. Some experts even believe mental or emotional pressure can contribute to the development of hemorrhoids.

That hemorrhoids may be linked to cancer is a common misconception. The only similarity involves a single symptom--bleeding. If you detect blood in your stool, it may be from a hemorrhaging hemorrhoid, but it might also be a sign of cancer. It is therefore important to contact your doctor, no matter how little blood you see. Early detection is the key to ensuring both bood health and peace of mind.

Although problem hemorrhoids may seem to be inherited, they are more likely the result of poor family diet, and you can take certain precautions to prevent them. It's all a matter of following good health tips.

Make those leisurely trips to the bathroom short. People who sit on the toilet enjoying the newspaper may develop homorrhoids. Sitting in such a position pulls the anus from both sides and causes veins to push out.

Dr. Burkitt believes that a fiber-rich diet to soften stools is the best defense against hemorrhoid problems and should be the first line of homorrhoid treatment. If you are constipated, add bran and fibrous vegetables, such as peas, to your diet, and don't sit and push for long periods.

Water in the diet is also extremely important. As waste material travels through the body, the large intestine absorbs water from it. Before the waste material reaches the rectum, most of the water may be gone, causing hard, dry bowel movements. Water will help maintain a normal bowel movement that can pass through the body easily.

Water is especially important for pregnant women, whose bodies may need additional liquid to avoid very hard, dry bowel movements. Pregnancy itself creates conditions that can cause hemorrhoids. A woman's blood supply actually increases, causing more pressure in the veins. As the womb enlarges, the added weight of the baby will press increasingly on the veins below. Pregnancy is the most common cause of hemorrhoids in young women, although the hemorrhoids tend to subside after a woman gives birth.

A good routine of both exercise and proper hygiene can also be helpful. Exercise will move food swiftly through the body, and good hygiene will remove any irritation-causing matter that can create pain, swelling, and itching.

You can choose from various treatments, both nonprescription and those performed by a doctor.

Nonprescription medications are available over the counter. The most common are ointments and suppositories. They can bring temporary relief.

Compresses are moist pads that bring relief when held in contact with the anal area. They are very helpful for cleaning away irritating matter. They also come in a medicated form that leaves a coating both soothing and cooling.

Warm sitz baths can help ease pain by relaxing and soothing the anal area. Place a folded towel in a tub with two to three inches of warm--not hot-- water. Sit on the towel for 15 minutes three or four times a day.

Comfort cushions are donutshaped cushions that help relieve pressure when you sit for long periods.

Rubber-band treatments involve drawing the hemorrhoid into a special instrument, which then fastens a tiny rubber band around the base of the hemorrhoid, tying it tightly. After a while, the hemorrhoid drops off due to lack of circulation.

Cryosurgery freezes external hemorrhoids with liquid nitrogen. In another method, the doctor injects a chemical in the area of the hemorrhoid in an effort to shrink it. Cryosurgery can usually be done in the doctor's office. In some cases the hemorrhoids may return.

Hemorrhoidectomy is the term that refers to the surgical removal of a hemorrhoid. This procedure is performed in a hospital. Today, through the use of a new breakthrough in laser surgery, some hemorrhoidectomies may be performed right in the doctor's office.

Now you have joined the millions who have discovered how common hemorrhoids are. But that doesn't mean you have to let this condition get or keep you down. With newly gained knowledge about hemorrhoidal symptoms, you can now rest assured you'll stand a better chance of preventing hemorrhoids. And if hemorrhoids are a problem, you now know there are many different ways to get help.
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Hartmann, Allison
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jan 1, 1988
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