External and internal piles, or hemorrhoids, are more common than you think. About 10 million symptomatic patients in the U.S. claim to have them, overall a conservative number, being that most have unobtrusive symptoms.
Globally, millions more could have piles, too, but they may not be aware that they have them. For the ones who continue to suffer from hemorrhoids, we know that the struggle is real, especially when you’re out and about.
This article sheds light on the causes, management and prevention of piles and their discomforting symptoms.
What are piles?
Painful and itchy hemorrhoids are commonly called “piles”, and they’re triggered by an inflammation and lump formation of tissues in the anal area. Swollen veins cause piles, but they may likewise contain a bit of muscle, tissues, blood vessels and elastic fibers.
The size of bulges in and around your anus vary, and they are categorized into four stages. Hemorrhoids may be internal or external in nature, the former being typically located 2–4 centimeters above the anal opening. External piles happen more rarely when compared to internal hemorrhoids, and they’re located on the outside corners of the anal region.
What causes piles?
When subjected to pressure, the blood vessels and veins in your anus typically stretch. They eventually swell or bulge when there’s too much tension, resulting in piles.
The following conditions may cause or increase your susceptibility to piles:
- Low fiber diet
- Chronic constipation or diarrhea
- Straining or pushing too much during bowel movements
- Regularly lifting heavy objects
- Anal intercourse
Are there different types of piles?
Internal hemorrhoids are lumps inside the rectum that you don’t normally see or feel. Because there are less pain-sensitive receptors in the rectum, internal hemorrhoids don’t cause major discomfort.
External piles, meanwhile, are located under the skin in your anus, where there are more pain-sensing nerves.
Piles vary in size and they are classified into four categories:
- Grade I: Minute internal inflammations that are typically not visible.
- Grade II: Internal piles that are bigger than Grade I hemorrhoids. A swollen vein may get pushed out during pooping but will return once stool has passed.
- Grade III: These displaced piles appear outside the anus, and an affected individual may feel them protruding. They’re easily re-inserted back, though.
- Grade IV: They’re the worst and largest type, and may need medical treatment. They cannot be re-inserted in the anus.
What are the symptoms of piles?
These are the common signs and symptoms of piles in an individual:
- An itchy behind that’s usually accompanied by redness and soreness
- Pain in the anal area and when passing a stool
- Lumps around the anus
- Bright red blood in your stool
- Feeling like your bowels are still full even after going to the toilet
- Slimy mucus after wiping your bottom
- A lump that protrudes through the anal opening
Piles are rarely serious. In most cases, they go away on their own after a few days, even without medical intervention.
What is a thrombosed hemorrhoid?
A thrombosed hemorrhoid occurs when an external pile turns purple or blue due to blood pooling or a blood clot. This is a more serious case and may cause severe pain and swelling, inflammation and a hard lump in your anus.
What are the possible complications of hemorrhoids?
In rare instances, piles can lead to other health problems, such as:
- Anemia – Prolonged and excessive bleeding due to hemorrhoids may lead to lack of blood supply.
- Fecal incontinence – Vein-swelling in your rectum due to hemorrhoids may prevent your anus from closing completely, causing stool to leak out.
- Hemorrhoid fistula – This occurs when a new tunnel is created between the anal skin surface and the inside of the anus following an anal gland blockage that had drained manually.
- Infection – External anal sores may get infected if left untreated.
- Skin tags – Happens when leftover skin from a thrombosed hemorrhoid gets irritated.
- Strangulated hemorrhoid – Occurs when the blood supply to a displaced or protruding hemorrhoid is blocked.
11 natural ways to treat and prevent piles without medication
While most cases of piles resolve in a few days, there are a few things you can do to manage the swelling and discomfort in and outside your home.
Use ice packs
Apply ice packs on your swollen bum to relieve pain, itching and minimise swelling. These specially designed ice packs provide immediate relief to various hemorrhoid symptoms. Most importantly, they help avoid hemorrhoids from getting serious by preventing blood clots.
Doctor-recommended and FDA-approved, they wear comfortably and remain invisible so you can use them anytime, anywhere.
Draw a warm (sitz) bath
Itching and irritation may be relieved by warm baths, especially if you add Epsom salts, which also help relieve pain. Harvard Health recommends taking 20-minute warm baths following stool movement.
A sitz bath may also be considered specifically to treat hemorrhoids.
There’s one more reason to drink at least eight glasses of water daily, and it’s mainly for your anorectal health. Consuming water helps keep your stools soft and prevents straining while passing stool, one of the main causes of hemorrhoids.
Eat fiber-rich foods
Increasing fiber consumption with fruits and vegetables has the same effect as drinking plenty of water. Legumes, whole grains, cucumber and apples are only a few of the constipation- and hemorrhoid-preventing foods.
Reduce alcohol and caffeine intake
Lay low on alcohol and coffee, as they could also harden your stool, exacerbate piles and make using the toilet a challenge overall.
Practice good anal hygiene
Keeping your bum clean and dry helps heaps in avoiding infection and aggravating discomfort. Use a soap-free cleanser to avoid further irritation from piles.
Gently wipe your anus with a damp tissue after passing the stool. Avoid scrubbing your anus because this may aggravate hemorrhoids.
Slap on hemorrhoid creams or ointments
There are a slew of hemorrhoid creams available in the market. Otherwise, petroleum jelly and creams with witch hazel and aloe vera may help relieve hemorrhoid discomfort particularly itching and pain. Aloe vera is known to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Holding your breath and straining while attempting to pass a stool increases the pressure in your rectum and irritates the anal area, too. Do this often and you’ll either worsen piles or trigger it.
Stop holding it in
When nature calls, you have to go. Don’t wait until it’s convenient to go to the toilet before doing it. Otherwise, you may find your stool dry out and become harder to pass if you skip the urge to go to the toilet.
Keeping yourself active and on the move can reduce pressure on your anorectal veins and help prevent constipation. Exercise also helps keep the weight off, preventing obesity that may cause hemorrhoids.
Avoid long periods of sitting
Sitting for a few minutes on the toilet can increase the pressure on the veins in the anus, similar to straining.
How can I avoid piles from getting worse?
To prevent exacerbating your hemorrhoid symptoms, avoid doing or taking the following:
- Spicy foods, as they increase pain and discomfort.
- Pushing hard when pooping, as it can increase anorectal pressure and worsen vein swelling.
- Wiping your behind harshly, as it promotes irritation.
- Taking painkillers with codeine to avoid constipation.
- Consuming ibuprofen if piles are bleeding, as it can aggravate it.
Are there other non-surgical hemorrhoids treatments?
These non-invasive treatments, which all aim to eliminate swelling, are available for more serious cases of hemorrhoids:
- Electrotherapy – Using a mild electric current to shrink your piles.
- Infrared coagulation – Utilizing infrared light to cut the blood supply in your hemorrhoids.
- Rubber band ligation – Aims to drop off piles by placing a band around it.
- Sclerotherapy – Where a liquid is injected into your piles.
Always know when to seek a doctor’s visit, and consider immediate medical attention if you’re bleeding excessively, have a fever or feel faint.
What are the surgical treatments for hemorrhoids?
As a last resort, your doctor may decide to perform surgical procedures to help you get rid of piles. A hemorrhoid-eliminating treatment may involve cutting your pile out via hemorrhoidectomy, stapling the swelling inside your anus through stapled hemorrhoidopexy or stitching your piles to cut off blood supply, as in the case of hemorrhoidal artery ligation.
Most cases of hemorrhoids or piles carry mild symptoms and do not warrant serious medical intervention. Still, there are plenty of things you can do to ease hemorrhoid-induced discomfort, whether at home or outside.
How about you? How do you deal with pesky piles? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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