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When I was a kid, few things made me snicker more than commercials for various hemorrhoid relief products.
(I remember an especially memorable one that compared the “burning sensation” to hemorrhoid flare-ups to that of a lighted match.)
Much like life insurance policies, hearing aids, etc. it was one of those things that I associated with “old people” and thought I would never need.
Fast forward decades later when I was pregnant with my first child and happened to meet a woman who was a doctor and a mother of two herself. She gave me a tip that I blithely ignored at the time: Stock up on some over-the-counter hemorrhoid treatments because chances were good I was going to need them after I gave birth. Nearly everyone, she said, got them if they delivered vaginally. I nodded politely but remained convinced that she was wrong about me.
As it turns out, she had been right.
There are few things more unpleasant or least talked about than hemorrhoids. Many mothers that I know who think nothing of sharing graphic birth stories complete with tales of vaginal tears, deep episiotomies, and C-sections, clam about about those pesky enlarged veins. When asked, nearly all of them admitted that they dealt with them either while pregnant or after delivery but somehow, talking about them or anything related to the rectum and anus remains deeply taboo.
For those reading this and thinking they have nothing to worry about because they never plan on having kids, it’s important to know that hemorrhoids are common and affect women as well as men. (Indeed, I know several men who have had surgery to relieve their hemorrhoid woes. In general, men tend to have worse cases than women.)
The Mayo Clinic says that “[by age 50, about half of adults [male and female] have had to deal with the itching, discomfort and bleeding that can signal the presence of hemorrhoids.” Even those who never get them may have to deal with varicose veins in other areas of the body like the legs. (Hemorrhoids actually are varicose veins but are called hemorrhoids to indicate where they appear in the body.)
While many think of varicose veins just in terms of being aesthetically unappealing, deep varicose veins can cause serious circulatory problems and may require surgery. Another common misperception is that hemorrhoids and varicose veins as inevitable and view the pain they bring as just something they have to live with, neither is true.
Luckily, there are ways to treat and even prevent these pesky veins.
Here are some tips:
1. Eat a diet high in fiber.
It’s no coincidence that constipation and hemorrhoids often go hand-and-hand. Straining also tends to make existing ones worse. Even if a high fiber diet doesn’t prevent them, it will make it easier to eliminate waste which is always a help.
2. Have a seat and put your feet up.
People who are on their feet for long hours (chefs, construction workers, nurses, etc.) tend to be more at risk for varicose veins and hemorrhoids. Even if sitting on the job is not an option, it is important to take breaks sitting, ideally, with the feet elevated. If that isn’t an option either, consider investing in some support hose or stockings which can be purchased online or at most drug stores. They truly do work and are very cheap compared to the cost of a doctor’s visit to get these veins treated.
3. Consider herbal supplements like witch hazel and horse chestnut extract.
Peruse the isles of a drugstore, and you’ll see that the active ingredient in most over-the-counter hemorrhoid relief treatments is witch hazel. (Usually at 50 percent concentration.) Witch hazel is also great to apply to varicose veins. While you can buy the commercial brands, it’s cheaper to just buy 50 percent witch hazel, chill it in the fridge and apply it to a cloth to said problem areas.
Taken internally, horse chestnut extract may prevent or even eliminate varicose veins. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine says “studies have found that horse chestnut seed extract is beneficial in treating chronic venous insufficiency. There is also preliminary evidence that horse chestnut seed extract may be as effective as wearing compression stockings.” Horse chestnut extract is widely available in most drugstores and natural health stores. (Note: if you are considering taking it, then please talk to your healthcare provider before taking it or any other supplement. )
4. Soak in a sitz bath.
A sitz bath is a small plastic bath tub that fits over the toilet seat and allows the buttocks and hips to soak in water. A herbalist can recommend certain herbal preparations but even plain water can provide relief. Sitz baths are widely available online and in pharmacies.
In closing, hemorrhoids and varicose veins are no fun, but they need not (pardon the pun) be a pain in the butt. There are ways to deal with them and if all else fails, see a doctor.
There’s no need to feel shy or ashamed. As mentioned above, many people deal with hemorrhoids and varicose veins at some point in their lives. Everyone has the right to live pain-free. As someone who has been dealt with them myself, I can say there are few things better in life than being rid of the pain they cause.
Therefore, don’t delay. If you have them, seek help today.
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Author: Kimberly Lo
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: mbtphoto (away a lot) at Flickr
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