Published by Bupa’s Health Information Team, July 2011.
This factsheet is for people who have piles, or who would like information about them including the symptoms, causes and treatments.
Piles, also known as haemorrhoids, are swollen and inflamed blood vessels in the anal canal.
Piles are round swellings (dilated blood vessels) on the inside of your anal canal – the short, muscular tube that connects your rectum (back passage) with your anus. They develop in areas known as the anal cushions. The blood vessels may become swollen, most often as a result of straining when you have a bowel movement.
You can get piles at any age, but they are most common in people over 65. Up to three in four people get piles at some time in their life. If you’re overweight you’re more likely to get piles. Piles aren’t cancerous and you can’t catch them from someone else.
Although piles develop inside your anal canal, they can hang down from your anus. They are graded as follows.
External piles are swellings that develop on the outside edge of your anus. They can be more painful than internal types of piles.
Common symptoms of piles include:
These symptoms may be caused by problems other than piles. If you have any of these symptoms, see your GP for advice.
The exact reasons why you may develop piles aren't fully understood at present. However, it’s thought that piles may develop because of increased pressure in the blood vessels in your rectum and anus.
You’re more likely to develop piles if you:
As you age you may also be more likely to get piles because the support structures in your rectum weaken.
Your GP will ask about your symptoms and examine you. He or she may also ask you about your medical history.
Your GP may examine your rectum by gently inserting a gloved finger into your anus. He or she may also use a proctoscope to look inside your rectum. A proctoscope is a narrow, tube-like telescopic camera. Air can be blown through the tube to open up your bowel so it can be seen more clearly.
Piles are often mild and will usually get better on their own within a few days. However, there are a number of treatments that can help relieve the symptoms.
Diet and lifestyle changes can often help to relieve your symptoms. For example, eating a high-fibre diet will make your stools softer and easier to pass. This will reduce the pressure on the blood vessels in your anus caused by straining when you have a bowel movement. You should also drink enough fluids to keep hydrated and don’t have too much caffeine.
Regular warm baths may relieve any irritation and help to keep your anal area clean.
If you still have symptoms after about seven to 10 days despite taking these self-help measures, consider taking a medicine or see your GP for advice.
There are a range of medicines that can help relieve the symptoms of piles.
Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your GP or pharmacist for advice.
It can take up to six weeks for some of these medicines to have an effect. If after this time self-help measures and medicines haven't worked, your GP may refer you to hospital for treatment.
These are treatments that you can have in hospital, but you won't need to stay overnight. Treatments include the following.
Surgical treatments for piles are an option if you have severe piles and other treatments haven't worked. The procedure is known as a haemorrhoidectomy and the particular type of surgery you have will depend on the size and number of piles you have.
Piles are common in pregnant women. However, surgery is rarely considered as piles usually get better after giving birth. If you're pregnant, it's important to include more fibre in your diet as this will help to soften your bowel movements. If this doesn't help, ask your GP about mild creams and ointments.
If you have daily bowel movements that are solid but soft, and you don't need to strain, faeces will pass easily and won't put pressure on the blood vessels in your anal area. This can help to prevent piles.
To keep your bowel movements soft try to:
For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see FAQs.
For sources and links to further information, see Resources.
This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the About our Health Information page.
Publication date: July 2011
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