While sometimes a prickly and rather uncomfortable or embarrassing topic of conversation, hemorrhoids – also referred to as ‘piles’ – are actually more of a common occurrence than you might realize. Hemorrhoids are swollen veins that develop in the anal canal. They can be internal (forming/swelling inside the anal canal) or external (forming/swelling near the opening of the anus, and you may notice a hard lump – also known as a thrombosed or clotted hemorrhoid.) It’s also possible to develop both internal and external hemorrhoids at the same time.
Hemorrhoids can develop due to a number of reasons. Commonly, hemorrhoids will develop in individuals who suffer from constipation. Any straining or increased pressure as a result of constipation and trying to use the restroom can cause the tissue inside the anus to fill with blood and stretch, resulting in hemorrhoids. Frequent bowel movements or diarrhea can also lead to straining and result in the development of hemorrhoids. It’s also not uncommon for pregnant women to develop hemorrhoids (usually within the first 6 months of pregnancy.) Hemorrhoids can also develop or worsen after childbirth. Those who are obese are also at risk of developing hemorrhoids.
Pain (such as burning) and itching are both common symptoms of hemorrhoids. You may also develop bleeding during bowel movements or notice streaks of bright red on your toilet paper, and it may be difficult or painful to keep the area clean. In order to relieve the pain associated with hemorrhoids, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends adding more fibre to your diet through foods (such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains), in addition to Metamucil to help keep stool soft and prevent straining. You should also make sure you’re increasing your water intake. Bathing in Epsom salt for at least 15 minutes several times per day (known as a ‘sitz bath’) can also provide relief. Over-the-counter ointment such as Preparation H and Anusol have also been effective in relieving painful hemorrhoids, as well as reducing swelling and itching. In some cases, these at-home methods may not be enough to get rid of hemorrhoids, and the patient may require surgery. In some instances, hemorrhoids may be able to be lanced and drained – though the hemorrhoids may or may not return. If this is the case, or if all of the aforementioned treatments are not effective, then the patient may require being out under general anesthesia to have the hemorrhoid removed. There are several types of procedures that can be done to remove hemorrhoids, such as rubber bang ligation and infrared photocoagulation. Following these procedures, it is not uncommon to have discomfort as well as some bleeding for 7 to 10 days.
The best way to prevent hemorrhoids from occurring is to make a few simple lifestyle changes. As mentioned, eating foods that are high in fibre and drinking plenty of water (until your urine is light or clear in colour) is key. You should also get some form of exercise each day, and at least 2 hours of moderate to vigorous exercise per week. It’s also important to practice healthy bowel habits by going to the bathroom whenever you have the urge, and avoid straining in order to pass stools.