A hemorrhoid, also known collectively as emerods or piles, was first so described during the 16th century and the word is derived from the Greek for “the discharging of blood.” It is a swelling and inflammation of veins which can occur in the rectum or anal channel. Essentially, it can be formed by a distension of the vein network under the mucous membrane around the anal channel, or under the skin around the nearby external area. As such, it is a form of varicose vein which can develop from an infection or leads from an increase in the intraabdominal pressure which can occur when lifting very heavy objects, the channel suffering extra strain, or during pregnancy. At its worst, it may result from complications connected with chronic liver disease or the presence of tumors.
The presence of hemorrhoids is actually extremely common with some surveys showing that as many as 50 percent of all Americans have had hemorrhoids at some stage during their life before they reach the age of 50. Each year, about 500,000 people in the United States seek medical treatment for this condition, with about 15 percent of these—generally the ones with the worst cases—needing some kind of surgery. It can, therefore, be shown the vast majority of the people who suffer do not seek treatment either because it does not pose much of a medical problem or the condition quickly reverses.
There has been a range of research into the causes of hemorrhoids, with a definite genetic link, and some families are often more predisposed to this condition. This can come from a weakness in the vessel wall which means that a condition which results in the higher risk of having hemorrhoids for some people may well be inherited. Additional factors come from obesity and also the increasing sedentary lifestyle, meaning that hemorrhoids are a greater factor in developed countries than in the third world. The British novelist Anthony Burgess, who suffered from hemorrhoids over many years, called the condition “Writer’s Evil,” presumably on the basis that one of the causes comes from the long periods of sedentary activity undertaken by most writers. Another person who also suffered from hemorrhoids was Emperor Napoleon I who, according to his physician, had a bad attack during the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, which made it difficult for him to ride a horse during the battle, and even took him away from the battlefield, costing him the battle, his throne, and his empire.
Some of the obvious causes come from postponing of bowel movement, constipation, chronic diarrhea, sustained low-fiber diets, poor bathroom habits, and also pregnancy. It has been suggested that people using the modern lavatory increases the risk of suffering from hemorrhoids, with squat toilets engendering a lower predisposition. However, there has only been limited research on this. A more obvious cause comes from dietary reasons. People who do not drink enough fluid or use too many diuretics (which includes consumption of coffee or colas) can result in harder bowel movements and hence harder stools, leading to irritation which can lead to hemorrhoids. As a result, a diet with increased fiber or hydration, the use of nonirritating laxatives, and baths can be used for treating some types of mild hemorrhoids, with more serious cases requiring medical examination. The most extreme cases are treated by hemorrhoidectomy which involves surgery to excise and remove the hemorrhoid.
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