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Senior Correspondent

Q. I suffer from hemorrhoids and I suspect a lot of other people do, too, because I see a lot of remedies in drug stores. But this is not a topic you bring up at parties. How many people have hemorrhoids, anyway?

By the age of 50, about half of the population — both men and women — have hemorrhoids. However, not everyone suffers from the nasty symptoms hemorrhoids can inflict.

Hemorrhoids are inflamed and swollen veins around the anus (external) or in the lower rectum (internal). Sometimes referred to as “piles,” hemorrhoids are caused by straining when defecating, aging, pregnancy, sitting or standing for a long time, obesity and heavy lifting. Hemorrhoids can run in families.

Blood may pool in an external hemorrhoid and form a clot that causes pain. Internal hemorrhoids don’t usually hurt because surrounding membranes don’t contain pain-sensitive nerve fibers. However, internal hemorrhoids tend to bleed. Sometimes, an internal hemorrhoid will protrude out of the anal opening causing discomfort.

Hemorrhoids usually are not a serious problem. Hemorrhoid symptoms, which can also include burning and itching, will go away within a few days. However, if you are bleeding from the anus, you must go to a doctor to have to it checked. This can be a symptom of cancer.

You can treat the symptoms of hemorrhoids yourself with over-the-counter medications that come in ointments and suppositories. Pads soaked with witch hazel help. And there are topical anti-inflammatory agents containing hydrocortisone. Warm water from a bath, bidet or removable shower head works, too. In addition, avoid dry toilet paper. Instead, use moist towelettes after a bowel movement.

A doctor can remove or shrink hemorrhoids. These techniques include: rubber-banding that cuts off circulation and makes the hemorrhoid atrophy, an injection of a chemical that shrinks the hemorrhoid, burning hemorrhoidal tissue with an infrared device, and hemorrhoidectomy — surgical removal.

Avoiding constipation is critical to preventing hemorrhoids. Doctors recommend increasing fiber and fluids in your diet to develop softer stools that don’t lead to straining. So, it’s important to eat whole grains, vegetables and fruit. Taking a fiber supplement each day helps, too. Drink liquids. Exercise.

A few other pointers:

  • If you have to sit or stand for a long time, take breaks often.
  • Don't sit on doughnut cushions because they can increase the pressure on the veins in the anus.
  • Don't hold your breath when trying to defecate; this creates greater pressure in the veins in the lower rectum.
  • Go to the bathroom as soon as you feel the need. Waiting can make your stool dry and harder to void.
  • Avoid laxatives that can lead to diarrhea.
  • Keep the anal area clean.
  • Apply ice packs or cold compresses on the anus to relieve swelling.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen can relieve discomfort.

If you would like to read more columns, you can order a copy of “How to be a Healthy Geezer” at www.healthygeezer.com.

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