Most people have heard of haemorrhoids, and many may even have a fairly good understanding of what they actually are. They are, unfortunately, a very common problem around the world, with many individuals suffering from them – in fact, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) claim that 10.4 million people in the USA alone suffer from haemorrhoids each year.
However, a number of myths also exist around haemorrhoids that many people believe to be true. Some myths are trivial, but others can be troublesome, especially if they deter people from seeking the right medical treatment (only 1 in 3 people with haemorrhoids actually seek medical help).
Let’s take a look at just a few myths about haemorrhoids, some of which are true, and some of which are false:
- Only old people get haemorrhoids.
This isn’t true. While the risk of getting them does increase with age, younger people can also get haemorrhoids. If you strain excessively during a bowel movement or have chronic problems in regard to the passing of your stool, you can develop haemorrhoids in your rectal and anal regions.
- Everyone already has haemorrhoids.
Also not true. While we do all have veins in our rectum that can become swollen if put under too much strain, we don’t all already have haemorrhoids. However, a substantial number of people will suffer from them at some point in their lives, and no-one should be deterred from speaking to their doctor about it in order to receive medical help.
- Only unhealthy people get haemorrhoids
Unfortunately, as with many conditions, anyone can get haemorrhoids, no matter how healthy or unhealthy they are. Of course, eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise can help reduce your chances of getting them.
- You can get haemorrhoids after sitting on surfaces that are very hot or very cold
Don’t place any stock in this one – haemorrhoids are not caused by sitting on very hot or cold surfaces. The temperature of your sitting surface, whether that’s your chair at work or a bench in the park, has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not you’ll develop haemorrhoids. It’s the length of time you spend seated which can affect your chances of getting them.
- Haemorrhoids can be caused by pregnancy
Actually, this one’s not far off. Up to a third of women may suffer from haemorrhoids at some point during their pregnancy as mounting pressure in the pelvic blood vessels can cause haemorrhoids to swell and even prolapse. As the womb expands, pressure on blood vessels increases, and haemorrhoids become more likely. Doctors can prescribe treatments to help relieve discomfort for pregnant mothers.
- You can develop haemorrhoids if you sit a lot as part of your job
Again, this one’s true. As mentioned before, the temperature of your sitting surface makes no difference to your likelihood of developing haemorrhoids, it’s the duration of your sitting that counts. If you work in an office, for instance, take time away from your desk to stretch your legs and have a break from staring at the screen. You’re entitled by law to have a few minutes’ rest every so often, so make the most of it. The more active you are, the less likely you’ll be to develop haemorrhoids.
- A balanced diet can reduce haemorrhoid symptoms
True. If you can avoid becoming constipated, your chance of developing haemorrhoids (or making them worse) can be greatly reduced. Get as much high-fibre food into your diet as possible, including fruit, vegetables and whole-wheat rice, and stay as hydrated as possible. It’s also important to get plenty of exercise and avoid increasing your stress levels. All of this will help you avoid constipation and diarrhoea, thus reducing the chance of haemorrhoids appearing in your rectum or anus.
- You should stop exercising if you develop haemorrhoids
Absolutely not. Regular exercise is good for your rectal veins, reducing the likelihood of you getting haemorrhoids; it’s also of great benefit to your colon, which makes passing stool much easier. Try going for a walk or a swim, or do a bit of yoga – all of these activities are light enough to avoid straining your system but effective enough to combat haemorrhoids. However, weight lifting can increase your risk of getting them, especially if your technique is inadequate.
- Haemorrhoids have no real cure or treatment
False – haemorrhoids are very treatable. If you develop them and are experiencing a lot of itching and discomfort, you can purchase treatments from your pharmacy to help you find some relief. There are also a number of home remedies available to treat haemorrhoids, many of which will cost you nothing at all. Of course, if you’re still experiencing pain from your haemorrhoids and home treatment isn’t working, speak to your doctor and have them prescribe you something to help with the pain. He or she may also point you in the direction of a specialist.
- Haemorrhoids can be caused by eating too much spicy food
It’s highly unlikely that this one’s true. The link between spicy or exotic foods and haemorrhoids has never been established. However, such foods can of course cause an upset stomach, which can lead to problems passing stool later on – this can in turn cause constipation, which is a major factor in haemorrhoid development.
- Anal bleeding is a symptom of haemorrhoids
Unfortunately, this is true. If your haemorrhoids begin to bleed, or if you have a thrombosed haemorrhoid that has burst, you will likely experience anal bleeding. Blood from haemorrhoid bleeding is bright red and may alarm some sufferers, but it can be treated fairly easily. Anal bleeding can be a sign of more serious conditions, though, so speak to your doctor if it starts to happen to you.
- Haemorrhoids can lead to cancer
Thankfully, this one isn’t true. Getting haemorrhoids does not mean that you’ll develop cancer as a result. However, both haemorrhoids and colon cancer share similar symptoms (such as bleeding from the rectum), so go see your doctor if you’re concerned.