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Could Lifting Weights Give You Hemorrhoids?
Okay, no one wants to talk about hemorrhoids. They’re not sexy, but they are common: One in 20 Americans suffer from the discomfort that happens when the veins around your anus or in your lower rectum get swollen and inflamed (think: how varicose veins are swollen veins in your legs). And nearly 3 out of 4 adults will experience hemorrhoids at some point in their lives.
While half of people over age 50 have hemorrhoids, younger people can experience them as well. The veins around your anus or in your lower rectum stretch under pressure, and increased amount of straining (for example, during bowel movements or while pregnant) may put you more at risk for developing hemorrhoids. That includes straining during heavy weight lifting: “Heavy weight lifting with poor form could can cause the exerciser to strain and/or bear down, which might cause hemorrhoids or make the symptoms worse," says Nathan Skelley, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at MU Health Care in Columbia, Missouri.
There are two types of hemorrhoids: internal and external. While you wouldn’t really notice the internal ones, which form in the lower rectum (unless you spot blood on your TP), external hemorrhoids (which are under the skin around the anus) can irritate your skin and may form itchy skin tags. And that can be really disruptive to your life, whether you’re the kind of person who’s constantly pushing yourself in the weight room or you just prefer an easy bathroom experience.
"The typical recreational athlete is at a low risk for developing hemorrhoids from athletic activity," Dr. Skelley says. "In fact, exercise prevents hemorrhoids in most cases because it helps control weight and colon health." But if you have a family history, eat a low-fiber diet that leads to straining during bowel movements, and continue to engage in strenuous activities (especially with poor form), you could be setting yourself up for hemorrhoids, Dr. Skelley adds.
If you’re already suffering from some back-door discomfort, there are some simple remedies that can help you feel better. First and foremost: Keep your butt clean to reduce irritation. And when wiping after a BM, stay away from dry toilet paper, which can irritate the anal area. Also helpful is witch hazel, which can provide relief for itching; try Preparation H Medicated Wipes for Women, which are infused with witch hazel, as well as soothing chamomile, aloe, and cucumber. You can also try a sitz bath—unfortunately, it’s not the kind of bath where you soak with a bath bomb. Rather, you buy a small bowl that fits over your toilet and sit in warm water several times a day.
If your hemorrhoids get really bad, talk to your doc: There are a number of procedures that they might consider, ranging from hemorrhoid thrombectomies to drain blood clots that form in external hemorrhoids, minimally invasive procedures that can treat persistently painful hemorrhoids, and surgical procedures for larger hemorrhoids.
If that makes you shudder, then prevention is crucial. Eat high-fiber foods, like fruits, veggies, and whole grains. They soften your stool, so you can go easier. And water is your BFF. Make sure you’re getting enough water—the National Academies of Sciences recommends women get 91 to 125 ounces of water from beverages and food each day. Regular exercise can also help reduce pressure on those veins; maybe just leave the heavy weights on the rack until you work your way up to them. And P.S. Get off your butt! Sitting too long can make you more likely to develop hemorrhoids and exacerbate existing ones.
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