Haemorrhoids (piles) are extremely common, and can often be painful and irritating. They’re classified as swellings within the anal canal that contain enlarged blood vessels. These swellings usually form lumps that can either be so minor that they aren’t noticed, or bad enough to protrude from the anus. They’re caused by excessive pressure on the blood vessels in the anus, usually from being sedentary for long periods of time as well as being older or overweight. Constipation can lead to developing piles due to straining on the toilet.
Tell-tale signs of haemorrhoids are soreness, itching, noticing blood in the toilet, and a sense of fullness in your bowels. However, these can also be indicators of more serious conditions, so if your symptoms don’t subside with treatment, please see a GP for further tests.
Many treatments are available for haemorrhoids that both reduce swelling and numb the area so you feel less pain whilst the anal canal is healing.
“Haemorrhoids will probably be experienced by half of the population at some point. They’re incredibly common and aren’t usually a cause for concern. They’re normally sore and itchy, and seeing blood in the toilet or after you wipe may be alarming, but there are several treatments available that can reduce the symptoms fairly quickly. If you’re still suffering after using the cream or ointment, please see a GP as haemorrhoids do share some symptoms with more serious conditions”
What are haemorrhoids?
Haemorrhoids (commonly known as piles) are swellings in and around the anal canal that contain enlarged blood vessels. They aren’t usually a cause for concern, and the good news is that they normally clear up by themselves within a few days. However, more chronic cases tend to need some kind of medical intervention, usually in the form of medicated creams or ointments.
Many people feel a lump in their back passage with haemorrhoids, either internally or externally, and in some cases, lumps are visible after passing stools. These may go back in on their own, need to be pushed back inside, or in the worst-case scenario, are permanently outside of the anal canal.
Haemorrhoids are incredibly common. It’s thought that around half of the population will experience piles at some point in their lives, and whilst it can be an annoying and painful condition, treatments are available and the symptoms are usually short-lived.
What are the symptoms of haemorrhoids?
As mentioned above, lumps can be a symptom of haemorrhoids, but not all people feel them or are aware of them, so how else might you know if you have a case of piles?
- Rectal bleeding: it’s common to see bright red blood in your stools or when you wipe. You may also notice it in the toilet water, causing it to turn pink.
- Itchy bottom: You may feel an irritating itch inside the anal canal as the haemorrhoids are irritating your back passage. This itch isn’t caused by not wiping properly
- Lumps: Some lumps are internal and may be difficult to feel, but a telltale sign of an internal lump is a feeling of fullness in your bowel. As mentioned before, some lumps may protrude from the anus.
- Red, sore and swollen bottom: You may notice redness and swelling around the anal passage due to the haemorrhoids and the pain they cause.
If you’re concerned about your symptoms, or they don’t go away in a few days or with treatment, it’s a good idea to visit your GP as some symptoms can be similar to more serious conditions.
Haemorrhoids can re-occur at any point after treatment.
There are four different degrees of haemorrhoids which may help you identify which stage you may be at:
- 1st degree: You may notice bleeding but swollen blood vessels don’t protrude from the anal canal
- 2nd degree: As well as bleeding and itching, you will notice a lump that comes out after passing a stool, but this will go back in on its own
- 3rd degree: as above, a lump will protrude after evacuating your bowels, though this needs to be pushed back inside.
- 4th degree: These lumps cannot be pushed back in and can get more irritated and inflamed due to being exposed.
What causes haemorrhoids?
Simply speaking, haemorrhoids are thought to be caused by increased or excessive pressure on the blood vessels in and around the anus. There are several factors that may make you more prone to suffering with piles, such as:
- Being overweight or obese: The added weight adds extra pressure to the saddle area when sitting down, putting more strain on the blood vessels around the anus.
- Age: Older people are more prone to haemorrhoids due to the weakening of muscles in the anus as well as being less mobile.
- Pregnancy: Growing a human can cause added pressure on the blood vessels in the anus. Added to this is the factor of fluctuating hormones that can affect blood vessels and other functions.
- Family history: Haemorrhoids can run in families.
- Regular heavy lifting: If you’re straining often, you’re increasing the pressure on many different parts of your body. You may think that weight lifting won’t affect your bottom, but unfortunately, it can also cause extreme pressure in the anal canal.
- Persistent cough: Similar to above, you may not think that a chesty or tickly cough could affect the lower parts of your body. However, coughing places the muscles (and ultimately blood vessels) in the anus under more strain.
- Staying sedentary for long periods of time: Possibly the most obvious factor on the list is the fact that sitting regularly and for long periods of time can also cause you to suffer from piles as the majority of your body weight is centred on your saddle area.
- Straining: If you suffer with constipation, its common to strain when going to the toilet, but this can put you at an increased risk of haemorrhoids.,/li>
How can I avoid haemorrhoids?
Luckily, the condition is somewhat preventable by making sure you’re at a healthy weigh and keeping active rather than being sedentary. A fibre-rich diet will also help to prevent piles as this should reduce your risk of being constipated. However, some medications (such as codeine) can cause constipation regardless of diet, so make sure you have lactulose or senna on hand should this be the case.
If you work in an office, it can be hard to keep mobile. Taking a break from the computer screen for a quick walk around won’t only relieve pressure on your bottom but will also help keep your mind refreshed. You can also purchase special ring cushions to take the pressure off the blood vessels in the anal canal which may be a good idea.
What treatments are available for haemorrhoids?
Luckily, there are several options for getting rid of a case of piles, often in the form of ointments or creams, though suppositories may occasionally be needed. Let’s take a look at some of the options available on Doctor4U:
- Perinal spray: This treatment contains a steroid (hydrocortisone) to reduce itching and swelling, and a numbing agent (lidocaine) to relieve pain. The spray is applied to the anus but not internally.
- Proctofoam: This haemorrhoid treatment also contains a steroid and local anesthetic/antipuritic to relieve the symptoms of piles. This is applied internally via an applicator.
- Xyloproct: These are two creams that are available on the website that both work in a similar way. Also containing a steroid and local anestheic, these can be applied both internally via and applicator or externally to relieve symptoms elsewhere around the back passage.
Most people find that their symptoms subside fairly quickly after using one of the above treatments, though there are also things you can do to help yourself. For example, placing your feet on a small stool when you go to the toilet puts you in a more natural posture and can reduce straining, whilst using damp toilet paper or baby wipes are kinder on the bottom than dry paper, meaning you aren’t irritating any lumps that are already there.
There is a debate around whether anal intercourse can cause haemorrhoids, but if you’re already suffering with them, it is a good idea to abstain from sexual activities involving the anus to reduce irritation and inflammation.
Can haemorrhoids cause cancer?
No. Piles and haemorrhoids are separate conditions, though they share many of the same symptoms. If your piles don’t go away with treatment, please seek an appointment with a GP for further tests.
Will spicy food cause piles?
Good news for vindaloo lovers! There isn’t much evidence to suggest that spicy food will cause haemorrhoids. However, it may cause irritation to the colon resulting in diarrhoea which could place pressure on the blood vessels. The good news though is that the burning feeling after eating a spicy meal is just the pain receptors in your anus recognising the chillies, and usually isn’t a sign of haemorrhoids.
Will I get haemorrhoids by sitting on a cold surface?
Many people commonly believe that sitting on a cold surface such as tiles or stone will cause piles. Whilst it needs more research, a study in Germany showed no relation between the temperature of a surface and the likelihood of developing piles. There may be some evidence that harder surfaces may lead to haemorrhoids though due to increased pressure on the bottom compared to softer furnishings.