When the veins in the anus and lower rectum become swollen, this is referred to as haemorrhoids - a medical condition that can take place both internally (inside the rectum) or externally (under the skin around the anus).
Also known as piles, it is estimated that every year, 300,000 cases of haemorrhoids are treated in Australia.
These are caused by several factors and fortunately, the condition can be treated effectively without too much difficulty.
Medical experts believe that the underlying cause of this condition is the stretching of the veins around the anus, when significant pressure is applied, leading to bulging and swelling.
This type of bodily change can take place due to:
Apart from this, certain risk factors also increase the likelihood that an individual will suffer from haemorrhoids. The older a patient gets, the more likely it is that he or she will develop this type of condition given that the tissues in the rectum and anus tend to get weak and stretch.
Haemorrhoids can also be the cause of other medical conditions. Patients may be more susceptible to anaemia due to the loss of blood that tends to occur. This causes a deprivation of oxygen within the body resulting from the reduction in red blood cells.
Conversely, if blood supply to an internal haemorrhoid is cut off, it gets strangulated, causing significant pain.
Another complication of haemorrhoids is a blood clot that forms inside a haemorrhoid. These can be painful and in some instances, may need to be lanced and drained.
While this type of haemorrhoid treatment is only pursued if other options haven’t been effective, surgical intervention is a common part of treating this condition.
Apart from standard haemorrhoidectomy - the removal of haemorrhoids through the elimination of the excessive tissue that causes bleeding - there are other options like haemorrhoid banding (where rubber bands are introduced to the base of an internal haemorrhoid), which is where blood flow is blocked to the affected tissue and is a common treatment strategy for internal haemorrhoids.
While the former is considered the most effective of both these surgical options, banding is known to be less painful. That being said, it involves a greater risk of recurrence and rectal prolapse, which is where a certain part of the rectum protrudes from the anus.
In addition to this, injections containing chemical solutions that reduce the area of the haemorrhoid tissue and infrared, bipolar or laser coagulation may also be pursued. The latter is where haemorrhoids are hardened and shrivelled through the use of laser/infrared heat or light.
To treat and prevent haemorrhoids, gastroenterologists recommend the consumption of high-fibre food items. In general, this can make stool easier to pass, preventing you from developing haemorrhoids as a result of constipation or too much straining during bowel movements.
That being said, you must incorporate fibre gradually so that you avoid suffering from gas.
You can also try and take sitz baths regularly, depending on the recommendations your doctor makes. These are warm, shallow baths that clean the area between the rectum and vulva, known as the perianal area.
You can either do these manually or through plastic, sitz bath sets that fit over your toilet.
Depending on your symptoms, a medical professional may prescribe painkillers like aspirin and ibuprofen or suppositories. In addition to this, haemorrhoid creams may also help relieve some of your symptoms, although certain creams should not be used for more than a week unless directed by your gastroenterologist.
While haemorrhoids may not necessarily be the most serious medical condition, they can cause significant discomfort and pain.
While the treatments outlined above are some of the most common remedies to this condition, consulting a specialist is necessary to receive personalised recommendations.
For more information on haemorrhoids, contact Dr Suhirdan Vivekanandarajah, a leading gastroenterologist in Sydney.
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