A Brief History of Haemorrhoids

Not only is it the most difficult medical condition to spell, it also leaves many sufferers gritting their teeth and resisting the urge to scratch. In its severest form, it can cause pain and bleeding that is difficult to cope with. The dreaded haemorrhoid has afflicted man since the beginning of his time on this planet and we’ve been obsessed with the condition ever since.

1700 BC was the first mention of piles, scrawled onto an Egyptian papyrus that advises using an ointment made from cooked acacia leaves.  That’s a little better than the 460BC cure all that used a sharp needle to puncture the offending article which was then tied with string until it ‘dropped off’. The same sort of procedure was advised by Celsus as the Christian era began.

Galen said that you should sever the arteries and veins and that this helped to reduce the risk of gangrene. One can only wonder at the agony of swapping an itching anus with a gangrenous bottom and how many people perished in olden times because of this procedure.

It wasn’t until the 13th Century that man began to develop more successful surgical techniques for this embarrassing and often debilitating condition. Europe seemed to be a hot bed of haemorrhoidal surgery with contributors like Lanfranc of Milan, Henri de Mondeville and John of Ardene.

In Medieval times, when the knights were bold and often in discomfort, haemorrhoids got the moniker of Saint Faicre’s Curse from the saint who developed them while tilling the land (your guess is as good as ours on that one). The first use of the word haemorrhoids goes back as far as the 14th Century and is derived from a French word which means ‘likely to discharge blood.’

As befitting our place in the modern world we now have a wide range of cures and panaceas for piles. No longer do we have to suffer in silence from an itching anus but we can apply creams and unctions, manage our diet so we are less susceptible to straining when we go to the loo, and, in the more severe cases, we can have a variety surgical processes.

Funnily enough, our ancestors generally had the right idea. The first line medical procedure used to remove troublesome haemorrhoids nowadays is rubber band ligation, closely followed by sclerotherapy, that collapses veins in the piles, and, as a final resort, cauterisation.  Then of course, if all else fails, there are a number of surgical techniques including transanal hemorrhoidal dearterialization which probably sounds more painful than it actually is.

Man has suffered from an itchy bottom for thousands of years and often it takes just the gentle application of an anal cream to sooth the irritated area. Other times it’s something a little more serious and requires medical intervention. Either way, if you are worried about your itchy anus, it may be time to see your doctor.

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