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Hippocrates’ Fiery Cure for Hemorrhoids

Hippocrates, ancient greek traditional medicine
Hippocrates is the father of traditional Ancient Greek medicine. Credit: Raed Mansour/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

Hippocrates, the ancient Greek founder of medicine, focused on treating hemorrhoids and proposed a fiery cure. Is this disturbing or funny?

A fiery ancient cure for hemorrhoids sounds like torture. Apparently, this was one of Hippocrates’ ancient Greek medical proposals.

Hippocrates’ approach to medicine, and hemorrhoids particularly, have ancestors going back to Ancient Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt more than 800 to 1200 years before. This tells us, humans literally and metaphorically had their heads up their arses for a very long time.

According to Mayo Clinic Hemorrhoids, also called piles, are swollen veins in your anus and lower rectum, similar to varicose veins. Hemorrhoids can develop inside the rectum (internal hemorrhoids) or under the skin around the anus (external hemorrhoids).Nearly three out of four adults will have hemorrhoids from time to time. Hemorrhoids have a number of causes, but often the cause is unknown.

Hippocrates ancient Greek treatise on hemorrhoids

How many know that among the Greek antiquity writings of Plato, Aristotle, Aeschylus, Euripides, Pindar, Sappho, and Hypatia, there is a famous discourse on hemorrhoids?

Francis Adams’s translation of Hippocrates’s “On Hemorrhoids” is very educational and surprisingly an easy read. It is archived in the classics department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Hippocrates impressively describes how hemorrhoids surface. Blood gathers in rectal veins. These veins are bruised as feces are excreted. He notes that, when thinking about procedures in this area of the body, it is a very formidable task. Hippocrates says it should not be pursued in mischief. Clearly, there were ancients with perverse senses of humor also.

As if mapping an endeavor for a future surgeon, Hippocrates describes hemorrhoids as standing out like dark-colored grapes. He notes after the treatment, the patient should eat fiber. And wash at least every third day. Bathing in clean water was a luxury in ancient times and for some contemporary people as well.

Besides preoccupation with getting the anus to pucker as much as possible for the treatment, readers of Hippocrates’ treatise will notice something else strategic. After an alternative approach other than surgery, urine is one element in the healing application placed on the wound. The alternative includes the use of boiling hot water!

Other parts of Hippocrates’ method include the need to distract the patient while the practitioner uses his finger. He may examine the inflamed flesh and perhaps tear it off by hand. Hippocrates says this is difficult as skinning a sheep. He also speaks of using a speculum for cutting hemorrhoids inside the anus. Who is flinching?

From irony to fiery iron?

Doctors study science for curing the human body. They combine technology, reason, and even some homespun cultural insights. Doctors try to remain objective. They diagnose and attempt to cure conditions that make many humans insecure. Even prone to silence and anxious laughter. We tend to laugh at our vulnerabilities. The irony is sometimes medical cures make us more exposed to pain before healing begins.

Hippocrates, the 4th century BCE Greek founder of medicine, has an ancient oath named after him that moderns are familiar with. The pledge suggests new physicians should be ethical and do no harm. Yet, when we look back on certain antiquity medical practices, what is proposed may sound scary. Surely some past medical practices are not sustainable today. Still, we must remember medicine is a science and an art.

What was Hippocrates’ fiery ancient cure for hemorrhoids?

What did Hippocrates propose as a cure for hemorrhoids? In an elaborate analysis from 400 B.C., Hippocrates’ “On Hemorrhoids” goes into great detail. He speaks of the need for the preparation of eight iron surgical tools. Is anyone squirming yet?

These are readied red hot. Then, the patient is held down with arms restrained. Uh-huh, bent over. The bulbous tissue growths are burned off until no parts endure. Hippocrates’ plan did account for those previously with discomfort having larger wounds in their rump than hitherto.

A cooling paste of lentils and chickpeas is applied to the wounds. A tourniquet is placed with support tied around their waist for several days. After this process, the bandage is removed. A new gauze with an application of honey is placed inside the anus. Apparently, lentils, chickpeas, and honey have healing properties.

But how do we get over the initial treatment of fiery irons applied to one’s inner derriere?
Hippocrates was actually on to something. Fire, where it burned, could remove pesky growths of flesh.

Contemporary solutions to hemorrhoids

Whether in Greece or in the United States, one can find Preparation H or Tucks products. There are fast-acting sprays. If you prefer moist compresses that function as medicated cooling pads. Topical ointments are available. Some treatments are placed inside the anus. Others are applied around irritated edges marked by swollen flesh animated by throbbing veins. Henceforth, these may burst with blood when the swelling goes down.

The cooling treatment actually obscures the swelling veins constriction. The treatment often includes lidocaine, a local anesthetic that blocks the signals at the nerve endings of your skin, in and around the bottom. This makes sense. For, without red hot pokers and chickpeas, the inflamed flesh is essentially reduced.

Over-the-counter treatments have vastly improved human life with hemorrhoids. Nevertheless, there are contemporary cases where surgeons take action. Where necessary, incisions are made. Some surgeons even use a stapling device. Inside the gluteus maximus?  Imagine that.

The patient is most often awake. The posterior is numbed. Usually, those who arrive with discomfort can return home the same day.

A favorable and useful disease?

Actually, Hippocrates found hemorrhoids despite the discomfort it causes a useful disease. It apparently informs us of larger processes of the human body in the way it attempts to circulate blood and clean itself. Some dispute if hemorrhoids are the best-described disease in human history. Have most doctors neglected innovation? One thing is for sure. Besides hemorrhoids having a unique place in antiquity and modern medical science, it is present in the history of humor as well. While Hippocrates is not responsible for the art and jokes, he was a major facilitator of all the rest.

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