Haemorrhoids or ‘piles’ as they are commonly known, are really a type of varicose vein. The veins supplying the rectal area contain no valves, and anything that increases the pressure can lead to the formation of haemorrhoids.
Haemorrhoids may be influenced by genetic factors, ie. a family history, or caused by straining during bowel movements, long periods of standing or sitting, and heavy lifting. Pregnancy can also cause haemorrhoid formation as the pressure of the growing foetus on the lower abdomen, along with hormonal changes, can cause the anal blood vessels to enlarge.
Haemorrhoids can be either internal or external. Internal haemorrhoids can become enlarged and prolapse outside the body (ie. prolapsed piles). Sometimes they can engorge with blood which clots, causing a thrombosed pile. Both are painful conditions.
How do you know if you have haemorrhoids?
External hemorrhoids can be felt outside the anus, resembling firm nodules like a grape or a bunch of grapes. There may be itching or burning in the anal region, with pain and bleeding with bowel movement. You may have internal haemorrhoids with no symptoms and be unaware of their presence. Internal haemorrhoids are most likely to bleed before, during or after a bowel motion. In some cases, the bleeding is profuse and frequent and can lead to anaemia.
Haemorrhoids can be regarded as a lifestyle disease reflective of the typical low-fibre Western diet, and its resultant tendency to cause constipation. They are common in the West, with up to 50% of people over the age of 50 in America experiencing symptoms. In contrast, those countries in which there is a high fibre intake from fruits and vegetables, have a much lower incidence. Constipation leads to straining in an attempt to pass hard, marble-like stools. This straining increases the pressure in the abdomen, obstructing blood flow through the veins, increasing pelvic congestion and leading to the formation of haemorrhoids.
Prevention and treatment
1. Prevention is best when it comes to haemorrhoids
Besides avoiding heavy lifting, and trying to limit long stretches of standing, the most effective prevention involves eating a healthy, high-fibre diet.
2. Fibre, Fibre and more fibre
Aim for a minimum of 5-plus servings of fruit and vegetables a day along with whole grains, beans, legumes and nuts and seeds. Two ripe kiwifruit a day cures constipation for most people. Fibre helps to attract water, making the stool soft, bulky and easy to pass. Drink at least eight glasses of water or herbal tea daily to keep the stool soft.
3. Bulking agents
High-fibre bulking agents can be used to reduce bowel motion straining.
Psyllium seeds and guar gum attract water into the bowel, forming a gelatinous mass and making the motion easy to pass. These bulking agents improve bowel habits and also decrease haemorrhoid symptoms such as bleeding, pain and prolapse.
4. Topical treatment
There are a number of creams, ointments and suppositories which can provide symptomatic relief. Many of them have a witch hazel base, as this herb is a powerful astringent, working to shrink and tighten engorged varicose veins. There are other treatments available from your pharmacy which contain a combination of a local anaesthetic and steroid to relieve pain, itching and inflammation.
5. Flavonoids to strengthen veins
Flavonoids are naturally-occurring nutritional compounds found in many fruits and vegetables and some grains. They help to relieve haemorrhoid symptoms by strengthening the walls of the veins. Rutin and citrus bioflavonoids are particularly effective. Cherries, blueberries, citrus fruit, blackberries, and wholegrains (especially buckwheat) are all rich sources of flavonoids. Vitamin C and bioflavonoid supplements are also naturopathically used to treat haemorrhoids.
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