Haemorrhoids (or piles) can cause inconveniences in both your personal life and your work life, and can be extremely uncomfortable to cope with.

A very common disorder affecting an estimated 50% of the overall population, piles aren’t usually treated as a serious condition. In fact, the symptoms can sometimes disappear without treatment or by making changes to your diet and exercise routine. Despite this, medication is available so that you can treat the irritating and sometimes painful symptoms caused by piles.

What are haemorrhoids?

Haemorrhoids, also known as piles, are small vascular structures that usually develop because of inflammation in the anal canal. These vascular structures are full of blood and mostly develop inside the anus but, in some cases, can be forced out of the anal opening, which can cause burning and soreness. In these cases, the haemorrhoids are still recognised as being internal. External haemorrhoids are part of a different, more rare condition where the blood clots accumulate around the periphery of the anus.

What are the symptoms?

Haemorrhoids are sometimes quite difficult to detect and may not be noticed for a number of years. In some cases, people may not experience any symptoms, but if you find that you are experiencing any of the following symptoms you should visit a doctor:

  • Itchiness and irritation around the anus
  • Inflamed anal opening
  • Blood in your stools
  • A discharge of mucus directly after passing a stool
  • Bowels still feeling full despite being recently emptied

What are the different types of haemorrhoids?

The more common type of piles is the internal form of the condition, which usually develops 2cm to 4cm inside the anal canal. These swellings are called vascular structures. In addition to forming inside the anus, they can also prolapse, which pushes out the swellings, causing discomfort and irritation. Haemorrhoids have different severity levels:

  • First degree – These are internal swellings that line the anal canal and are often not visible
  • Second degree – These are larger and may be forced out of the anus when passing stools
  • Third degree – Small lumps that form outside the anus, but can be pushed in after the passing of stools
  • Fourth degree – Larger external lumps that can be pushed back in

What are the risk factors?

Though haemorrhoids can develop at any age, they are more common in people who are aged 50 or above. They are mainly caused by reoccurring constipation and because of this, piles can develop as a direct result of a poor diet, specifically a lack of fibre.

Other risk factors include regularly lifting heavy objects, persistent diarrhoea, pregnancy and a history of haemorrhoids in your family.

How can I prevent haemorrhoids?

There is no single factor that protects you from the disorder but there are certain preventative measures that may put you at a lower risk of developing haemorrhoids. You should make sure that your stools are soft and regular, which can be achieved by consuming sufficient amounts of fibre as part of a balanced diet. You should also restrict the amount of alcohol that you drink and ensure that you exercise regularly, which can keep your bowels in a healthy condition.

How should I treat haemorrhoids?

Treatment options vary depending on how severe and persistent your symptoms are. In most cases, swellings will reduce over time and can eventually disappear altogether, providing that you regulate your diet and exercise more.

If the symptoms aren’t improving, a doctor may recommend prescription medication to alleviate the uncomfortable symptoms and help reduce the swellings.