Haemorrhoids are not dangerous, but there are cases when a trip to your doctor is warranted depending on how serious your symptoms are.
What are Haemorrhoids?
Haemorrhoids or piles are clusters of swollen veins that develop inside and around the anus. There are two types of haemorrhoids: internal and external haemorrhoids. Internal haemorrhoids occur in the inner, lower part of the rectum, while external haemorrhoids occur outside, beneath the skin around the anus.
Internal haemorrhoids normally do not cause any pain, even if you see drops of blood into the toilet bowl. However, they may slip out of the anus, which may cause potentially serious problems. When they protrude from the anus, they can absorb some mucous and small waste particles that can cause skin irritation and anal itching. It is not advisable to wipe them roughly as this can only worsen their condition.
On the other hand, external haemorrhoids are painful because they occur under the skin around the anus. When a blood clot develops inside an external haemorrhoid and it becomes irritated, the pain can be so sudden and excruciating. You might also feel like you have a lump around your buttocks. When the blood clot dissolves, it usually leaves a skin tag, which may become itchy when irritated.
However, it’s not all bad news.
Why You Shouldn’t Worry So Much About Haemorrhoids
They are quite common.
Based on a 2012 study, about 39% of adult Australians suffered from haemorrhoids between 2008 and 2009, 44.7% of whom showed symptoms such as painless rectal bleeding, anal itching, mucous discharge found in the stool, and presence of a lump. If you have a haemorrhoid, know that you are not alone, and what’s even better is that it is curable.
Most symptoms of haemorrhoids can be managed at home.
Symptoms like mild rectal pain or mild anal itching can be addressed with over-the-counter medicines, such as hydrocortisone creams. But if you prefer natural treatments, you can try using pads that contain witch hazel extract, which may reduce pain, bleeding, and itching. Witch hazel contains beneficial oils and tannins that may reduce inflammation and slow down the bleeding.
Another option to relieve haemorrhoids is to increase your fibre intake (i.e., eat 25g per day for women and 38g for men) and stay hydrated (drink 8 glasses of water daily). We recommend eating a lot of fibre-rich vegetables and fruits, such as lentils, Brussels sprouts, spinach, squash, carrots, kidney beans, apples, blueberries, oranges, and bananas. Whole-grain foods like oatmeal and wheat bran cereals are also excellent sources of fibre.
Finally, for those who have painful haemorrhoids, taking a sitz bath may offer many benefits. A sitz bath will require you to sit on a small tub filled with warm water for 15 minutes several times throughout the day. Available at local drug stores, this sitz bathtub fits perfectly on top of your toilet seat and provides an easy way to soothe the affected area.
Often, they do go away on their own.
In some cases, piles clear up without any treatment after a few days, while in other cases, they can become a recurring condition, especially for large external haemorrhoids. Those types may take a bit longer to heal and cause significant discomfort, which typically warrants a visit to your doctor. You are at risk for recurring haemorrhoids if you are:
- Pregnant (due to the extra weight during pregnancy)
- Obese or overweight
- Sitting for an extended period of time, whether during a car, bus, plane ride or even when sitting for too long on your toilet bowl
- Not getting enough fibre and water
- Suffering from chronic diarrhoea and/or constipation
- Abusing laxatives
- Having repeated anal intercourse
- Having difficulty passing stool
Several minimally invasive treatments are available.
Rubber band ligation, sclerotherapy, and coagulation are some of the most effective treatment options for individuals with persistent haemorrhoids. Rubber band ligation is a four-part procedure that involves placing a small elastic band around the base of a haemorrhoid to shrink and hold it in place. It can be uncomfortable at first and bleeding may occur, but the procedure itself rarely causes serious complications. In sclerotherapy, a physician uses a chemical solution and injects it into the haemorrhoid to shrink it. This procedure causes little pain, but it might not be as effective as rubber band ligation. Finally, coagulation techniques involve using infrared light or laser to harden and shrink internal haemorrhoids. However, they may cause a little pain and may have a few side effects.
When to See Your Doctor
The latest statistics for digestive diseases show that 1.1 million individuals received outpatient care for haemorrhoids in 2009 and more than 266,000 were hospitalised for treatment in 2010.
While haemorrhoids are generally not dangerous, and serious complications rarely arise after receiving a minimally invasive procedure, you must still know when to pay your doctor a visit. Here are some of the signs to watch out for:
- Severe rectal pain. See a doctor when you experience extreme pain in your anus to rule out other serious diseases (e.g., Inflammatory Bowel Disease and colorectal cancer) that might have increased your risk for painful haemorrhoids.
- When none of the home remedies has worked. If you’ve been eating fibre-rich foods, increasing your water intake, and sitting in a sitz bath for a week or two yet your symptoms haven’t improved, then it’s time to talk to a general practitioner or a specialist like a proctologist or a gastroenterologist.
- Severe blood loss. If your internal haemorrhoids result in severe bleeding, it might cause blood clots and protrude through your anus, increasing your risk for infections. In some rare cases, this can lead to sepsis or gangrene.
Although haemorrhoids are a minor health issue for many, it’s still best to have them checked by your doctor to rule out possible disorders with symptoms similar to piles. Not only will this help you prevent some nasty infections, but it will also lower your risk of developing recurring haemorrhoids.
Need Our Help?
Book an appointment with an accredited dietitian or nutritionist by phone on (07) 3071-7405 between 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday or send us an enquiry. Alternatively, learn more about our Gut and Bowel Health services.