Health Beat: What you don't know about hemorrhoids could kill you


Fifty percent of Americans will suffer from hemorrhoids by age 50, but do you really know what you need to about this painful condition?

Dan Collins found his calling with community theater.

"Being on the stage and acting gives me the opportunity to shine some of my own light. This is my creative expression," Collins said.

Offstage, however, Collins is shining the spotlight on a personal problem.

"I found this lump. So, I ran off to my doctor and he said, ‘Oh, you got a hemorrhoid,'" Collins said.

Hemorrhoids affect about 10 million Americans at any given time, but Dr. Sergey Kantsevoy said most have no idea hemorrhoids can kill you.

"Hemorrhoids, by itself, can cause significant blood loss. It is life-threatening if you're losing a lot of blood," said Kantsevoy, clinical professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of therapeutic endoscopy, Institute of Digestive Health and Liver Disease at Mercy.

Chronic blood loss can lead to anemia, or worse.

"If they are bleeding from hemorrhoids, this can provoke heart attack in people with bad coronary arteries," Kantsevoy said. "Also, I think it's very important that people don't attribute all rectal bleeding to hemorrhoids."

The bleeding could be a sign of colorectal cancer, or a digestive disorder, something Collins is monitoring.

"I have an uncle that died of colon cancer. So, it's in my family history," Collins said.

He's also implementing prevention strategies, like eating foods high in fiber and staying active. Swelling and itching can be reduced by ointments, less straining, and not turning bathroom time into downtime.

"So, all reading materials should be eliminated from the bathroom. Bathroom is not library," Kantsevoy explained.

It's advice Collins is following in his daily life.

It's interesting to note that being sedentary can be just as big of a risk factor as working out by lifting heavy weights. Both can put undue pressure on your bottom half, causing hemorrhoids to grow larger.

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