Haemorrhoids (also known as piles) are swellings that can occur in the anus and lower rectum. There is a network of small veins within the inside lining of the anus and lower rectum. These veins sometimes become wider and engorged with more 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.
Bright red blood from the anus is most likely to come from piles, rather than anything more serious. However, if you are unsure whether the bleeding is due to piles, you should visit your GP for advice.
Although piles develop from inside the anal canal, they can hang down out of their normal place 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 you can’t push them back inside. They may become extremely swollen and painful if the blood in them clots.
The exact cause for the changes that occur and lead to haemorrhoids forming is not clear. Some haemorrhoids seem to develop for no apparent reason. However, it is thought that situations that cause increased pressure in and around the anus can be a major factor in many cases.
Common symptoms of piles include:
- 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. If the stool becomes too hard or the bowel walls become clogged then more effort is required 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. However, if you would like a more specific, personalised haemorrhoids plan, why not Book a Consultation with Smart Nutrition.
Toilet habits – Delaying passing a bowel movement, rushing bowel movements or persistent constipation or diarrhoea can all lead to situations which 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 is important to address the underlying cause. More information can be found on the constipation and diarrhoea pages (insert links?)
Pregnancy – Hormonal changes during pregnancy increase blood flow to the pelvis and relax supportive tissues while the growing fetus causes increased pressure on blood vessels. During labour, haemorrhoids may develop because of the intense pressure on the anal area while pushing to deliver the baby. Taking nutritional measures to 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. Losing weight has many health benefits and can significantly reduce your risk of many chronic problems. For safe and effective weight loss, book A Weight Loss Package with Smart Nutrition who can guide, support and motivate you through the process.
Blood vessel weakness – Some people inherit a weakness in the walls of the veins in the anal region. Weaknesses can also develop with age. As we grow older, the supportive tissues in the lining of the anus lose some of their strength and elasticity, making it more likely for haemorrhoids to form. The good news is that with appropriate dietary intervention, many of these degenerative changes can be slowed. Through a combination of foods, herbs and supplements it is possible to strengthen anal blood vessel and their supportive tissue to help manage or prevent haemorrhoids.