Piles – just a pain in the backside?

We may be more open about awkward subjects than we used to be, but it will be a long time before we air the subject of piles at a dinner party! Yet more than half the population will get them at some point in their lives, and they can often be easily treated – and avoided.

We may be more open about awkward subjects than we used to be, but it will be a long time before we air the subject of piles at a dinner party! Yet more than half the population will get them at some point in their lives, and they can often be easily treated – and avoided.

What are they?

Piles are swelling coming from the lining of the back passage (rectum) and anus. They’re a bit like varicose veins of your bottom, because they come from a swollen vein.

What causes them?

Like varicose veins, piles are often caused by excess pressure inside the back passage. This in turn is usually due to constipation – a combination of large, hard stools and straining to go. You’re also more likely to get piles:

  • In pregnancy (probably the pressure here is the baby pressing down on your back passage)
  • As you get older (the lining of the back passage may get thinner as you get older, making it easier for the piles to push out)
  • If they run in your family (you may inherit a weakness in the lining or the veins of the back passage)

How do I know it’s just piles?

Piles often cause bleeding, but the blood tends to be on the paper or the pan, or on the edge of your stool. It tends to be bright red and you may also pass mucus. The bleeding of piles is often linked to pain, itching or soreness just inside your bottom or on the skin around it. You may also notice a lump protruding from your bottom. One kind of pile (called an external pile or perianal haematoma) can cause a sudden, intensely painful lump just outside your anus. The pain usually settles on its own within 2-3 days, but if you catch it early your doctor may be able to remove the blood and relieve the pain.

When do I need to worry?

It’s always important to take notice of bleeding from your back passage, because it can be an early warning sign of cancer of the bowel. If you’ve never had piles before, you need to get it checked by your doctor even if the symptoms are typical of piles (see above). You should also see your doctor quickly if:

  • the blood is dark red or blackish
  • the blood is mixed in with the stool
  • the bleeding persists and you don’t have any pain, lump or itch
  • your stools have become looser, of you’re going more often, for more than a couple of weeks
  • you’ve also gone off your food or lost weight

Healthy eating for a happy gut!

Being constipated can make you feel sluggish and bloated, as well as making you prone to piles and other gut conditions. We should have about 25g of fibre a day - yet 8 out of 10 of us don’t get enough. To keep your colon ticking along nicely, try the following:

  • start the day with a high fibre cereal. People who do get about 60% more fibre than people who don’t
  • switch to wholemeal (or granary) bread and pasta
  • eat baked rather than boiled potatoes – and don’t leave the skins on your plate!
  • another reason to eat your greens! All vegetables are good sources of fibre
  • If you’re tempted to have a drink of fruit juice, try the real thing instead. Fruit can quench your thirst, but has the added benefit of plenty of fibre
  • Snack on dried fruit rather than reaching for the biscuit barrel
  • drink enough fluid (2-2 ½ litres, or 6-8 cups, a day).
  • regular exercise will also help keep your bowels moving

With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.