Haemorrhoids, also known as piles, are swellings that can occur in the anus and lower rectum.
The network of small veins in the inside lining of the anus and lower rectum can become wider and more engorged with blood than usual. These engorged veins and the overlying tissue may then form into one or more small swellings called haemorrhoids. About half the people in the UK develop one or more haemorrhoids at some stage in their life.
Piles develop from inside the anal canal but can hang down depending on how severe the swelling is.
First degree piles are swellings on the inside lining of the anal canal. They bleed but can’t be seen from outside the anus.
Second degree piles are larger and stick out (or prolapse) from the anus when you open your bowels, but return on their own afterwards.
Third degree piles are similar, but hang out from the anus and only return inside when pushed back in.
Fourth degree piles permanently hang down from the anus and cannot be pushed back inside. They can become extremely swollen and painful if the blood in them clots.
The exact cause of haemorrhoids is not clear. Some haemorrhoids seem to develop for no apparent reason. Increased pressure in and around the anus can be a major factor in many cases.
- Bright red blood from your anus, which you may notice on the toilet paper when wiping or in the toilet bowl
- A lump hanging down from the anus
- Pain and discomfort after you have opened your bowels
- A slimy discharge of mucus, which may cause itching
- A feeling that your bowels haven’t emptied completely
- Soiling underwear (with third or fourth degree piles)
Poor diet: a diet high in processed food and low in fibre is a major risk factor for haemorrhoids. Fibre helps to soften the stool and cleanse the walls of the bowel. Stool that’s becomes too hard or clogged bowel walls require more effort to pass a bowel movement. This in turn increases the pressure in and around the anus, which can create or worsen haemorrhoids.
Gradually increasing fibre rich foods such as fruits, vegetables and wholegrains is a great way to help prevent or manage haemorrhoids.
Smart Nutrition can design a specific, personalised haemorrhoids plan to help you manage your condition.
Toilet habits: delaying passing a bowel movement, rushing bowel movements or persistent constipation or diarrhoea can all create a lot of pressure in and around the anus. If your stools are often hard, dry and difficult to pass or you suffer with diarrhoea regularly, it’s important to address the underlying cause. (Please find more information on the constipation page.)
Pregnancy: hormonal changes during pregnancy increase blood flow to the pelvis and relax supportive tissues at the same time as the growing foetus increases pressure on blood vessels. Haemorrhoids may also develop during labour because of the intense pressure on the anal area while pushing to deliver the baby.
Looking after your nutritional needs can strengthen blood vessels before and during pregnancy can help to prevent haemorrhoids from forming.
Being overweight: excess weight, especially in the abdomen and pelvis, may increase pressure on pelvic veins and predispose you to haemorrhoids.
Maintaining a healthy weight has many health benefits and can significantly reduce your risk of many chronic problems.
For safe and effective weight loss, book in with Smart Nutrition – we can guide, support and motivate you through the process.
Blood vessel weakness: weakness in the vein walls of the anal region can be an inherited trait.
It can also develop with age: the supportive tissues in the lining of the anus lose some of their strength and elasticity over time, making haemorrhoids more likely to form.
Many of these degenerative changes can be slowed with appropriate dietary intervention. A personalised combination of foods, herbs and supplements can strengthen anal blood vessels and their supportive tissues, helping to manage or prevent haemorrhoids.