Also referred to as 'piles', haemorrhoids refers to a condition where the small blood vessels around the anus (and rectum) enlarge when blood from these vessels does not flow through them quickly enough. When the same thing occurs in blood vessels in the legs, it is called 'varicose veins'.
Haemorrhoids can either occur internally, that is inside the anus, or externally where they appear on the outside of the anus. They are referred to as 'prolapsed haemorrhoids' where veins from inside the anus protrude through to the outside through the anus - and these are the most painful type.
The primary symptom of haemorrhoids is when you see blood either on the stools (faeces) or on toilet paper or in the toilet bowl, in fact the word is based on the Greek words for blood - 'haima' and flow - 'rhoos'. The condition has been known to man for over 3,500 years and is still very common today - more than 300,000 Australians are treated for haemorrhoids every year and it is the most common rectal condition.
What causes haemorrhoids?
A number of factors are involved in the development of the conditions. Major risk factors for haemorrhoids include...
- Age (more common in people over 50)
- Being overweight
- Being pregnant
- Suffering from constipation
- Heavy manual labour
- Spending long periods of time sitting on hard surfaces (this includes the toilet itself)
As noted above, some haemorrhoids can be very painful. Here are a few suggestions to help minimise this pain...
- Do not spend a long time on the toilet
- Avoid straining when on the toilet
- Do not rub or wipe your anus after going to the toilet (pat the area clean and dry instead)
- Do not use normal toilet paper as this can be too dry - use wet wipes
If you have any bleeding from the anus or the rectum at all, we advise you visit your doctor to rule out any other causes of bleeding, such as internal bleeding or bowel cancer.
Treatments for haemorrhoids
We generally recommend a treatment called haemorrhoid banding. Read more about this treatment here.