Haemorrhoids (often known as piles) are rather like varicose veins in the canal of the anus/rectum.
The anus and lower rectum contain a network of small veins. When a lot of pressure is placed upon these veins (as in women during pregnancy for example) they become engorged with blood. The veins may then be stretched and swell. It is when these small veins become swollen and engorged with blood that haemorrhoids occur.
Haemorrhoids are a common problem and affect around 50% of people at some time in their life. Although uncomfortable and embarrassing it is not normally a serious condition.
There are a number of people who are more at risk of developing haemorrhoids such as:
- Those chronically straining with constipation.
- After or during pregnancy.
- Overweight people.
- People with heavy lifting jobs.
The common symptoms of haemorrhoids are:
- Pain and discomfort during and immediately after a bowel motion.
- Swelling around the anus.
- A feeling that your bowels have not been completely emptied.
Sometimes haemorrhoids inside the anal canal protrude outside the anus (prolapsing haemorrhoids). At ﬁrst, the haemorrhoid may go back in itself but later you might need to push it back in yourself using a ﬁnger. Protruding haemorrhoids can lead to skin irritation and discomfort and there is usually a mucus discharge.
For most people, the condition is mild and will settle down in a few days without any treatment.
Haemorrhoids caused by pregnancy will usually go away after the baby has been born.
A number of over the counter drug treatments are available which aim to reduce the size of swollen haemorrhoids and also reduce pain and itching.
The products are usually in the form of creams, ointments or suppositories and contain one or more of the following ingredients:
- Astringents such as bismuth and zinc salts act by forming a protective coating over the
sensitive areas and help to shrink swollen blood vessels.
- Local anaesthetics reduce pain at the site of the haemorrhoids. Lidocaine is commonly
used in over the counter products. These types of treatments are usually only helpful for
short-term use (up to 7 days).
- Corticosteroids such as hydrocortisone reduce the itching and pain through its anti-
inﬂammatory action. They should not be used for more than a week and should not be
used in children or pregnant women.
- Protectants protect the inﬂamed irritated tissue. Examples include peru balsam and shark
If you are experiencing severe pain or are at all concerned about your hemorrhoids you should contact your GP for advice.
Haemorrhoids are common and preventing them from occurring can be difficult.. However, following a few simple steps may reduce the risk of developing them.
- Avoid becoming overweight.
- Eat a high ﬁbre diet.
- Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Drink plenty of ﬂuids.
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
- Exercise regularly.