What are hemorrhoids?
Also called piles, hemorrhoids/haemorrhoids are swellings that occur in the lining of the back passage – the anus and rectum.
The network of small blood vessels in the back passage can become engorged with more blood than they’re used to. These enlarged blood vessels and the skin and tissue that lie over them become the swellings we know as hemorrhoids.
No one knows why some people get them and others don’t, but they are very common. It’s estimated that more than 50% of the population will have one or more hemorrhoids at some time in their lives.
What are the symptoms of hemorrhoids?
Symptoms vary; small hemorrhoids are often painless but anal pain, itching and sometimes fresh blood on the stools or on the toilet paper are common symptoms.
Internal hemorrhoids form above the anal opening and may be small or enlarge so that they are partly pushed out of the anus when you go to the toilet, but disappear again.
If they enlarge further they may prolapsed (become pushed out) more permanently and can be felt outside the anus.
External hemorrhoids are less common than internal hemorrhoids. An external hemorrhoid is a lump that develops on the outer edge of the anus and it may not cause any symptoms or problems.
However if a blood clot forms in the hemorrhoid it can become very painful and require treatment: this is known as a thrombosed external hemorrhoid. See ‘How to Treat Hemorrhoids’ further down the page for more on this.
What causes hemorrhoids?
Some people are more prone to developing hemorrhoids than others. Factors that increase the
likelihood of getting them include:
- Being constipated. Passing large stools and straining at the toilet because you want to go but can’t, causes pressure on the pelvic veins in the anal canal and this in turn causes hemorrhoids.
- Pregnancy. Hemorrhoids are more common during pregnancy. The growing baby puts pressure on the pelvic veins, and the changes in hormone levels during pregnancy can make the problem worse.
- Being overweight. Carrying extra body fat also puts pressure on the pelvic veins in the same way as pregnancy does. However obesity is also the result of poor diet and lack of exercise, which can also cause constipation and therefore hemorrhoids.
- Ageing. Just as the tissues in other parts of the body become less well supported, the same is true of the tissues in the back passage and anus.
- Heredity. If your parents suffered with hemorrhoids then there is a chance that your may too.
How to treat hemorrhoids.
There are many hemorrhoid creams available without prescription. The pharmacist will be able to help you choose the right one for you.
- A soothing cream may relieve the itching and pain in mild cases.
- Some hemorrhoid creams contain a local anaesthetic that will ease the pain if it’s more severe. These are suitable for use over short periods – up to 10 days – but can irritate the delicate anal tissues if they’re over used.
- Hemorrhoid treatments available on prescription include those with a steroid in them. The steroid will reduce some of the painful swelling, but again should be used for a short time only.
- These hemorrhoid treatments usually come with a small nozzle that allows you to treat internal and external hemorrhoids.
- A thrombosed external hemorrhoid may bleed for a few days and then gradually shrink as the clot is re-absorbed into the body. However thrombosed external hemorrhoid treatment may need to be by minor surgery if your doctor thinks that it may cause problems because it remains hard and swollen. Any clot will be removed when the doctor makes a small incision into or around the hemorrhoid. He’ll then close the wound with a stitch. This is usually done under a local anaesthetic so it’s not as painful as it sounds.
Home hemorrhoid treatments.
- Hemorrhoid relief using heat and cold is designed to get the blood moving. Use ice wrapped in a small towel or cloth, and apply to the area 3-4 times a day for 10 minutes at a time. This can be followed by
- A hot, damp compress (like a folded towel or facecloth) applied for about the same length of time. Or you can just use this moist heat.
- Take regular pain killers. If you take one containing ibuprofen or another non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), then this will help to reduce the inflammation. Use NSAIDs with caution if you have asthma and avoid them if you have a history of peptic ulceration.
- Avoid standing or sitting for long periods if you can.
- Lying on your stomach with a pillow under your hips may help decrease the swelling of the hemorrhoids.
- Wear loose cotton underwear as this will prevent a build up of moisture that can irritate hemorrhoids.
- Don’t rub the area after using the toilet – use baby wipes to clean yourself.
- Avoid perfumed soaps when washing.
How to get rid of hemorrhoids.
The only permanent hemorrhoid cure is surgery. There are several different types of hemorrhoid surgery.
Banding treatment can be done at the outpatient clinic. The doctor will hold the hemorrhoid with a pair of forceps and wrap a rubber band around its base. The hemorrhoid then dies (because it has no blood supply) and drops off.
This procedure is usually painless and up to 3 hemorrhoids can be treated at the same time. It has an 80% success rate at preventing the hemorrhoids from recurring.
Injection sclerotherapy: An injection of phenol in oil is put into the base of the hemorrhoid which causes them to scar. This in turn shuts off the blood supply to the hemorrhoid so that it dies and drops off.
Hemorrhoidectomy: This is the traditional operation use to treat serious and prolapsed hemorrhoids. It is done under general anaesthetic and the surgeon cuts the hemorrhoids away. It’s usually a successful operation but can be painful in the recovery phase afterwards.
The best hemorrhoid treatment is preventing them in the first place and preventing them flaring up. Do this by:
- Having a diet that is high in fibre – bran, oats, cereals, beans – and eating plenty of fruit and vegetables. Tinned and dried fruit are as good a source of fibre as fresh. This helps the gut move its contents along by giving it some ‘bulk’ to push on.
- Making sure you drink plenty of (non-alcoholic) fluid. Adults should have about 2 litres (4-5 pints) each day and more if you’re exercising or if the weather’s hot. This prevents the stools from drying – a dry stool is much more difficult for the gut to move along.
- Getting some exercise. These measures will help reduce constipation, which occurs when the contents of the gut slow down and get clogged up. Exercise helps the gut keep moving properly.
- For more help with embarrassing problems, go to www.intimatehealthhelp.net.