Piles (also known as haemorrhoids) are swollen blood vessels in or around the area of the bottom or anus. They are uncomfortable, sometimes embarrassing but very common - about half the population develop them at some time during their lives.
- Itchiness around the anus
- Bleeding after defecating
- Protrusion from the anus if pile very swollen
- A mucus discharge after passing a stool (poo)
- Soreness around the anus
- A feeling like your bowels are full
Piles are basically swollen veins. They exist in two forms: external piles - which develop just outside the anal passage, and internal piles which develop inside the anal passage in the rectum. Sometimes piles become so swollen that they protrude from the anus and need to be pushed back after passing a stool (poo).
Piles are generally caused due to straining while trying to go to the toilet - this puts excess pressure on the blood vessels in and around the anus causing them to become swollen. Piles are often caused by constipation. They are common if you are overweight or pregnant and may occur with age as our bodies’ supporting tissues get weaker.
How are piles treated?
There are lots of over-the-counter creams, ointments and suppositories that you can use to reduce the swelling. These treat the symptoms of piles but are not a cure.
You can also get a private or NHS prescription from a doctor for corticosteroid cream - this contains steroids to reduce severe inflammation but should only be used for a few days.
Laxatives may be recommended if constipation is the cause. These may be bulk forming (containing bran) to increase bowel movements, or osmotic to draw in water to soften stools and make them easier to pass. Most laxatives are available without a prescription.
For more severe haemorrhoids ‘banding’ can be used - a procedure where a tight band is placed around the base of the pile to cut off its blood supply until it falls off. Surgery may also be offered to treat large haemorrhoids.
Alternative Therapies & Self Help:
If you are frequently constipated you should introduce more fibre into your diet. Eat 20-30g of fibre a day found in wholemeal breads, cereals, leafy vegetable and beans, or take a fibre supplement. Avoid processed foods such as white bread that bung you up. Also drink plenty of water and avoid caffeine, alcohol and fizzy drinks. As it becomes easier to go to the toilet the less you’ll strain.
Eat breakfast daily to stimulate movement of the bowel and have a regular toilet routine (usually an hour after breakfast) so your bowels have time to work.
Don’t ignore the urge to go - waiting will only make stools drier and harder.
Keep active and exercise regularly. This reduces the pressure in your blood vessels and helps you to lose weight (being overweight puts you at risk of piles).