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A sitz bath or hip bath is a bath in which a person sits in water up to the hips. It is used to relieve discomfort and pain in the lower part of the body, for example, due to hemorrhoids (piles), anal fissures, rectal surgery, an episiotomy, uterine cramps, inflammatory bowel disease, and infections of the bladder, prostate or vagina. It works by keeping the affected area clean and increasing the flow of blood to it.
A sitz bath may be created simply by filling a bathtub with some water and sitting in it for a few minutes. Alternatively, a large basin can be used. There are also special devices that fit into toilet bowls. Sitz baths may either be warm or cool. Some people find alternating between hot and cold water soothing. Sitz baths may be filled with just water, or substances such as salt, baking soda or vinegar can be added.
The term sitz bath is derived from the German word Sitzbad, meaning a bath (Bad) in which one sits (sitzen). A sitz bath is a hip-bath, that is, a bath in which a person sits covered with water up to the hips. Hip baths were originally a European custom, although nowadays sitz baths are used mainly for therapeutic purposes.
Sitz baths may either be warm or cool. Warm baths are recommended for reducing the itching, pain and discomfort associated with conditions such as hemorrhoids and genital problems. An ordinary bathtub can be filled with 3 to 4 inches (7.6 to 10.2 cm) of hot water (about 110 °F (43 °C)), and sat in for 15–20 minutes or until the water cools down. Alternatively, a large basin can be used, and there are specially built devices that fit into toilet bowls.
Cool sitz baths are said to be helpful in easing constipation, inflammation and vaginal discharge, and, in cases of fecal or urinary incontinence, in toning the muscles. Some people find that alternating three to five times between a hot bath for 3–4 minutes and an ice-cold bath for 30–60 seconds is soothing. A towel soaked in cold water can be used in place of a cold bath.
For most purposes sitz baths with water are sufficient, though some people prefer to use saline water or water mixed with baking soda. The use of such additives helps to reduce infections. Women with candidiasis (a vaginal yeast infection) may benefit from a warm bath with salt and vinegar.
Sitz baths are considered very low risk. Because hot baths cause blood vessels to dilate, on rare occasions some people can feel dizzy or have palpitations (rapid or abnormal heartbeat). Individuals prone to such occurrences are advised to have someone standing by to assist them.