By Annines Angula

IN some parts of Africa, hemorrhoids (commonly known as piles) are portrayed as a result of sorcery or as a curse. Due to lack of knowledge about the condition of which many people suffer, there are unfounded myths in circulation that hemorrhoids are a curse provoked by an abomination, sin such as adultery, among several other social deviances.

Hemorrhoids are in fact bulging blood vessels located in the rectum and when left untreated, can bleed and cause tremendous pain. Because they bulge, they also make bowl movements a dreadful task.

The occurrence of hemorrhoids are associated with an increase in pressure in the lower rectum, which can cause the blood vessels in the lower rectum to become swollen and inflamed. Factors such as pregnancy, being overweight or obese, rapid weight-loss, and diarrhea may increase the risk of developing hemorrhoids.

Hemorrhoids are common in both men and women. According to the U.S National Library of Medicine, half of all people have suffered from hemorrhoids by age 50, and two-thirds are likely to experience it at some stage in their lives.

The most common symptom of hemorrhoids inside the anus is bright red blood covering the stool, on toilet paper or in the toilet bowl. Symptoms typically go away within a few days. A health expert based in Windhoek, who preferred to speak off the record, told this reporter that hemorrhoids develop mostly on those who experience chronic diarrhea, constipation, as well as pregnant women.

There are two kinds of hemorrhoids: internal hemorrhoids, which occur in the lower rectum, and external hemorrhoids, which develop under the skin around the anus. External hemorrhoids are the most uncomfortable, because the overlying skin becomes irritated and erodes. If a blood clot forms inside an external hemorrhoid, the pain can be sudden and severe.

You might feel or see a lump around the anus. The clot usually dissolves, leaving excess skin (a skin tag), which may itch or become irritated. Internal hemorrhoids are typically painless, even when they produce bleeding. “You might, for example, see bright red blood on the toilet paper or dripping into the toilet bowl,” the clinician said.

Internal hemorrhoids can also prolapse, or extend beyond the anus, causing several potential health problems. When a hemorrhoid protrudes, it can collect small amounts of mucus and tiny stool particles that may cause an irritation called pruritus ani. Wiping constantly in an attempt to relieve the itching can worsen the problem.

“People who strain during bowel movements cause pressure on the lower veins,” he noted, and added that eating low-fiber foods, as well as anal intercourse are just some of the reasons why people get piles. “When hemorrhoids  people are overweight, they place additional stress on the joints, particularly the knees and ankles, leaving them increasingly susceptible to bleeds,” he added.

“Piles can affect everyone, but people at the age of 45 are more likely to get piles. However, young people are not an exception,” he said. Although they don’t normally lead to death, piles can be life-threatening at times, especially when one suffers from internal piles that grow to a point where they bulge out of the anus and prolapse.

The symptoms of hemorrhoids often clear up on their own or with simple treatments and medication that can be bought from a pharmacy. In cases of severe prolapse, surgery may be needed as the most quick and effective solution. Modern medical technology makes this less painful than in previous times.

A common household treatment recommended by many doctors involves using a tablespoon of bicarbonate soda dissolved in a small tub of hot water, known as a sitzbath, which should be used two to three times a day after bowel movements to relieve painful symptoms and reduce swelling.

People that suffer from hemorrhoid are also encouraged to eat less processed food, drink sufficient water, and live healthily. Regular exercise, such as a brisk 20-minute walk every day, is said to stimulate blood circulation and reduce the risk of developing the dreaded piles.