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About Hemorrhoids

What Are Hemorrhoids?

Though you likely only hear the term “hemorrhoids” when it is referring to hemorrhoids that have become symptomatic, they are actually a normal part of our anatomy. Hemorrhoids are cushions of tissue, located in the lower rectum, that contain blood vessels, muscle and elastic fibers. Hemorrhoids contribute to our resting continence, meaning they assist the body in controlling the expulsion of stools. When you’re not experiencing itching, burning or discomfort from hemorrhoids, you probably don’t think about them at all, but they’re always there.

As with other tissue in your body, hemorrhoids can swell or become inflamed. This tends to occur when the connective tissues in a hemorrhoid weaken, allowing the hemorrhoid to slip down into the anal canal.

When hemorrhoids become swollen or inflamed, they may be referred to as “piles”, though are often still called “hemorrhoids”.

We will refer to inflamed hemorrhoids as both piles and hemorrhoids according to the common usage.

Inflamed hemorrhoids are a very common issue that affect about half of adults by the time they reach age 50. While many people get hemorrhoids in older adulthood, anyone can experience this condition.

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Causes of Hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids result from increased pressure in the veins of the rectum, often from too much straining. Many people underestimate how easily hemorrhoids can develop. The following circumstances could all potentially contribute to developing hemorrhoids:

  • Constipation: Constipation can cause hemorrhoids when a person strains excessively to pass a bowel movement, putting pressure on the veins in the anus. A diet low in fiber and high in fat can be one cause of constipation, though it can also stem from other conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Not drinking enough water can also lead to constipation by limiting the amount of fluid in the intestines, leading to hardening of the stool.
  • Chronic diarrhea: On the opposite end of the spectrum, experiencing chronic diarrhea can also create pressure that causes hemorrhoids. Diet and conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome are just a couple causes of diarrhea. When piles already exist, diarrhea can worsen their swelling and irritation.
  • Pregnancy and childbirth: Pregnant women are at an increased risk of experiencing hemorrhoids due to the pressure exerted by the growing fetus. Pregnant women also commonly experience constipation. Straining while giving birth may also cause hemorrhoids.
  • Obesity: People suffering from obesity may also be at an increased risk of developing hemorrhoids. This is due in part to the pressure on the pelvic region from extra abdominal weight. If obesity results from a poor diet, this may also cause constipation, which, as we’ve seen, is a common cause of hemorrhoids.
  • Prolonged sitting: Sitting for long periods can place pressure on the veins in the rectum and anus, which can cause hemorrhoids to develop. This may be a problem for people who sit for extended periods at a desk or sit on the toilet for long periods due to constipation.
  • Heavy lifting: You may be aware that straining on the toilet can cause hemorrhoids, but other types of physical exertion can also lead to piles. For instance, straining while lifting heavy objects can increase pressure enough that veins swell and hemorrhoids occur.
  • Age: In some cases, there isn’t a clear event or circumstance that leads to a hemorrhoid. It could simply be a part of aging. As we age, the tissues supporting the veins can weaken or stretch, which causes hemorrhoids to develop. The average age of hemorrhoid patients who consulted with CRH’s Patient Advisors is 43.

Hemorrhoid Prevention

Understanding the causes of hemorrhoids can also give some insight into how to prevent them. While we can’t always prevent hemorrhoids, especially if age is a factor, there are some ways you can lessen the likelihood that you’ll experience this problem.

If you’ve experienced uncomfortable piles in the past, you’ll be glad to know there are steps you can take to help with prevention:

1. Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated is important if you want to maintain good health and prevent constipation. The amount of water you should be drinking depends on factors such as your physical activity level, but according to experts, the recommended intake is on average 3.7 liters of water each day for men, and 2.7 liters a day for women. These totals include all the fluids we take in, which partly come from food. A simpler guide that works well for most people is to drink eight glasses of water every day.

2. Eat a Healthy, High-Fiber Diet

Eating a healthy diet rich in fiber is also a good way to prevent constipation and improve your overall health. Unfortunately, most Americans consume less than half their recommended fiber each day. Avoid high-fat, low-fiber foods and instead look for fruits, vegetables and grains that are naturally high in soluble fiber. You may also want to take a fiber supplement if you struggle to get enough fiber or frequently suffer from constipation.

3. Strategically Time Bathroom Trips

When you feel the urge to go to the bathroom, try not to put it off. Waiting too long could cause the stool to harden, making it harder to pass. If you want to avoid straining, pay attention to your body’s natural urges. If you’re struggling with having a bowel movement, don’t strain too hard or spend too long on the toilet. If you can’t have a bowel movement within two minutes, come back later and try again.

4. Stay Physically Active

As we’ve seen, sitting for long periods can put undue pressure on the rectum, so try to move around whenever you can. If you work an office job, take breaks to stand up or try using a sit-stand desk so you’re not sitting for hours at a time. Maintaining a more active lifestyle overall through exercise can also help you maintain a healthy weight, which lessens your risk of experiencing hemorrhoids.

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