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Hemorrhoids: Dangers, treatments and prevention

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Hemorrhoids, or "piles," are swollen, inflamed anal tissue

To help prevent them, drink lots of water and increase your fiber intake

CNN —  

Hemorrhoids have plagued mankind’s derrieres for centuries.

It’s said that French leader Napoleon Bonaparte’s rectal protrusion caused him such pain during the Battle of Waterloo that it affected his ability to lead, ultimately costing him victory.

Hippocrates pioneered many of the surgical techniques used today to address hemorrhoids, or more accurately “piles,” which is the name for a swollen, inflamed hemorrhoid. The word hemorrhoid actually refers to cushions of tissue that line the anal canal. We all have them, as they are responsible for bolstering and tightening the anal canal and sphincter muscle that keep us from leaking unmentionables when we cough or sneeze.

But those tissues break down, and by the time we are 50, over half of us will have suffered at least one episode of this itchy, burning, often excruciating life event. Despite that, the subject of hemorrhoids is not one that we often speak about, even away from the dinner table.

Just what causes these pains in our buttocks? Are they dangerous? What treatments are available? And if you’ve ever had one, you’ll quickly agree this is the most important question: How do you prevent hemorrhoids from happening?

Causes of hemorrhoids

Think of hemorrhoids like your booty’s version of varicose veins. Most of the time, they are just there, doing their job. But add some pressure – such as obesity, straining during a bowel movement, the extra weight of pregnancy, prolonged sitting during a long car or airplane ride or while on the toilet, and chronic diarrhea or constipation – and the tissue swells, knots and often becomes painful.

There are other reasons for this unfortunate experience. As we age, our connective tissues weaken and stretch out of shape, which can lead to a prolapse, or falling, of a part of the anal wall, which can then protrude from the anus. Repeated anal intercourse can produce the same effect or irritate existing hemorrhoids and make them bleed.

There is some indication that hemorrhoids run in families, too. And those with ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s and inflammatory bowel disease can add a higher risk for hemorrhoids to their long list of ailments.

Types of hemorrhoids

There are two types of hemorrhoids: internal and external. If you had to choose, pick internal.