Hemorrhoids are a common medical condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Despite this, they often go unnoticed due to the stigma and embarrassment surrounding them.
A few weeks ago, a patient showed up at our out-patient clinic and described having symptoms of hemorrhoids. He mentioned he could feel “something coming out of the anus” and had blood in stools.
Unfortunately, he was too embarrassed to let us examine his anal area — which is needed to confirm the diagnosis — and left the clinic without treatment.
This made us realize that while the physical symptoms of hemorrhoids are widely discussed, the emotional and psychological challenges people with this condition face are often brushed under the rug.
So, in this article, we will explore the psychological impact of hemorrhoids, including strategies for overcoming the taboo surrounding this condition.
What are hemorrhoids?
Before delving into the psychological aspects of the condition, it’s first important to understand what hemorrhoids are.
Also known as piles, hemorrhoids are swollen veins in the rectum or anus. They can be external, developing under the skin around the anus, or internal, occurring inside the anal canal.
Since many people consider hemorrhoids too embarrassing to share with their healthcare providers — only 4% seek help — the actual number of people with hemorrhoids is impossible to determine.
However, research shows that at least 50% of Americans will have experienced hemorrhoidal symptoms by the time they reach the age of 50.
What leads to hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids are caused by excessive pressure on the blood vessels around the anus. The most common cause of hemorrhoids is constipation, where people strain to move their bowels.
It can also be caused by bouts of diarrhea, sitting for long periods, as well as certain anal infections and medical conditions like end-stage liver disease.
Hemorrhoids are especially common during pregnancy and the postpartum period. This is because of the changes that occur during pregnancy and the strain of pushing during labor, which can cause new hemorrhoids and worsen existing ones.
This is another area where hemorrhoids can have a major psychological impact. New mothers are often already dealing with the psychological turmoil of conditions like postpartum blues (present after up to 80% of births), depression, and stress.
Add hemorrhoids and unavailability of a female surgeon to the mix and you get a highly distressed mother.
How do hemorrhoids affect mental health?
So, what are some ways hemorrhoids can have an emotional impact on patients? Here are six important ones to be aware of.
1. Social stigma and embarrassment
One of the biggest emotional challenges faced by people with hemorrhoids is the social stigma and embarrassment associated with the condition.
Many people are unaware of the science behind hemorrhoids and mistakenly associate them with things like poor hygiene or sexual promiscuity. This lack of awareness can lead to judgment and stigmatization, making an already painful condition very difficult for individuals living with it.
Even in healthcare settings, patients often feel embarrassed discussing their symptoms with medical professionals (as highlighted by our story in the introduction). This embarrassment can lead to a delay in diagnosis, worsening the condition and making treatment more difficult.
2. Missed social engagements
People with painful hemorrhoids often end up distancing themselves from their friends and family. They may put off social engagements because it involves sitting uncomfortably in a chair, bench, or booth. This can compromise your personal relationships, especially if you cannot confide in family and friends due to feelings of embarrassment.
3. Missed opportunities
People with painful hemorrhoids — such as those with thrombosed external hemorrhoids — may end up missing opportunities to go to a play, concert, sporting event, or other activities that they enjoy. Sometimes, doing these activities is so painful that it’s impossible to enjoy them at all, lowering the quality of life for hemorrhoid patients.
4. Pain and discomfort
The constant pain and discomfort accompanying hemorrhoids can take a severe emotional toll on patients. Simple daily activities like sitting, walking, or even sleeping can become excruciatingly painful, leading to frustration, irritability, and even depression.
On an interesting side note, a Korean study found an association between depression and a higher risk of developing hemorrhoids.
5. Anxiety and stress
The fear of experiencing a sudden and embarrassing flare-up can lead to chronic anxiety and stress in patients with hemorrhoids. Many patients also constantly worry about rectal bleeding — which is a notorious sign of colon or rectal cancer — making it difficult to relax and enjoy life.
6. Decreased productivity
Hemorrhoids can cause many patients to struggle at work. The itching, pain, and bleeding of hemorrhoids can make it difficult for patients to concentrate, impairing their productivity. To make things worse, patients are often unable to talk about their health condition with their co-workers and superiors, bottling up stress and anxiety.
How to overcome the taboo associated with hemorrhoids?
Overcoming the taboo surrounding hemorrhoids is essential for raising awareness, promoting timely treatment, and supporting those affected. Here are five important strategies to break the silence and reduce the stigma associated with the condition.
1. Educate and raise awareness – One of the most effective ways to combat the taboo surrounding hemorrhoids is through education and awareness campaigns. By educating people on accurate information about the condition, its causes, and treatment options, we can demystify hemorrhoids and reduce common fears and myths surrounding the condition.
2. Normalize discussions about anal health – Hemorrhoids affect a part of the body that is often considered taboo to discuss openly. To reduce stigma, it’s essential to normalize conversations about anal health, just as we do with other health issues.
3. Share personal stories and experiences – Personal stories can humanize the condition and provide comfort to those struggling with hemorrhoids. When individuals share their experiences, it helps others realize they are not alone in their journey.
4. Promote early diagnosis and treatment – Timely diagnosis and treatment are crucial in managing hemorrhoids effectively. It’s important for medical professionals to encourage individuals to seek medical attention without hesitation, emphasizing that early intervention can prevent complications.
5. Support mental health and well-being – As we saw above, hemorrhoids can impact a person’s mental health due to so many reasons. So, it’s important to promote mental health support as an essential aspect of managing the condition and encourage patients to seek help if they experience emotional distress related to their hemorrhoids.
Seek help for your hemorrhoids today
If you’re struggling with hemorrhoids, know that you are not alone.
Hemorrhoids are a medical condition just like any other and you deserve to get the support, help, and treatment you need to recover and improve your quality of life.
So, don’t suffer in silence — and confide in a trusted family member, friend, or healthcare provider about your condition. You might be surprised how understanding they will be.