Piles, known medically as haemorrhoids, occur when the blood
vessels of the anus are put under pressure, causing them to become swollen and
stretched. Internal piles occur completely inside the anus, while external
piles, known as perianal haematoma, may occur wholly outside the anus and can
actually protrude out of the anal opening.
Piles are common with up to half of the population having
them at sometime in their life. Lifestyle factors, such as obesity, straining
to lift heavy weights, constipation and pregnancy can increase the incidence of
piles, as can genetic factors and the blood vessel degeneration that comes with
Piles cause a range of embarrassing and unpleasant symptoms
including itching around the anus, a dragging sensation, pain or difficulties
when passing stools, discharge including blood spots from the anus and a
feeling like you need the toilet often throughout the day.
What do I do if I
think I have piles
Your GP will be able to diagnose piles from the symptoms you
describe and a simple examination of your rectum. This may just involve a
digital exam, in which a finger is inserted to feel for piles, or a more
thorough examination using a proctoscope, which allows your GP to view more of your
rectum and to take tissue samples for analysis if required.
Self-help for piles
In many cases, piles will go away of their own accord within
a few days of the initial flare up. You can assist this process with a range of
over the counter or prescription medications. These medications come as creams,
ointments or suppositories and contain several different chemicals to help with
or corticosteroids: these help to reduce swelling and inflammation.
these protect the skin around the anus.
these help to avoid infection if the skin of the anus is torn.
or anaesthetics: these reduce the discomfort of itching so that you
are less likely to cause further damage by scratching.
You should avoid using pile treatments for more than a week
at a time as they can start to have an adverse affect on the surrounding skin.
It is also unwise to use more than one treatment at a time as they may contain
similar ingredients resulting in an excessive dose.
If your piles do not respond to pile medication and ease
naturally, there is a range of further treatment available. Most of these
treatments involve depriving the piles of their blood supply so that they die
a very tight elastic band is fixed in place around the bottom of the pile.
It will then shrink within around seven days. This is an uncomfortable
procedure, but it can be done as an outpatient appointment and you will be
able to return to work as soon as you feel comfortable to do so.
this uses a similar principle to banding, but this time the blood supply
is cut off by scar tissue created by injecting chemicals into the base of
the pile. The piles take 4 – 6 weeks to shrink away. This can also be done
as an outpatient appointment and can be less uncomfortable than banding,
allowing you to return to work sooner.
Infrared coagulation: the blood
vessels supplying the pile are destroyed by infra-red light, causing the
pile to shrink within a couple of weeks. This is a minor procedure and you
can return to work the following day.
For larger, or more persistent piles, a more substantial
procedure may be called for. These include:
- Stapling, or haemorrhoidopexy: protruding
piles are taken back into the anus and stapled into position. This not
only holds them in place, but the stapling cuts the blood supply causing the
pile to wither away.
artery ligation: a Doppler probe is used to identify the arterial
source of the pile. This is then stitched to cut off the supply of blood
from the pile.
if piles do not respond to other forms of treatment, it may be necessary
to remove them by surgery. This is a major operation and requires a
general anaesthetic and around a week off work to recover. However it is
by far the most effective treatment and has the lowest recurrence rate.
Living with piles
If you are prone to piles, there are several steps you can
take to cope with a flare up and to reduce the chances of recurrence following
During a flare up, you should always wash your bottom after
you have used the toilet and pat it gently dry. You may find that using moist
toilet tissue or baby wipes is easier to tolerate than dry toilet tissue. You
should also try to eat a high fibre diet and drink plenty of water, to keep
your stools soft and avoid pressure on your piles as you defaecate.
Once your piles have eased, or you have undergone treatment,
you can reduce the risk of recurrence by taking regular exercise, eating plenty
of high fibre foods, limiting your intake of alcohol and coffee and
establishing a regular and swift toilet habit.