Haemorrhoids, also known as piles are rather like varicose veins in the canal of the anus. Piles develop from three cushions of tissue that line the anal canal, just under the mucous membrane inner lining. Here is a considerable network of veins extending upwards from the level of the skin to just above the anal canal, where it joins the rectum. This tissue is normal – it acts as a compressible lining that allows the anus to close completely, avoiding leakage. If the veins dilate or swell, they may then project into the anal canal and even out of the back passage (this is called prolapse) to form visible swellings. These swellings are the ‘piles’.
Although uncomfortable and embarrassing, piles are not normally a serious condition. Haemorrhoids are usually painless.
Piles may be completely symptomless, especially if they are small, and many people don’t realise they have them. But they can also cause a range of problems:
Anal swelling / lumps. Piles may feel as small, soft lumps protruding from the opening of the anus, sometimes compared to a ‘bunch of grapes’. They are usually soft and fleshy but may become hard if thrombosis occurs. The piles may only appear after straining at the toilet. Protruding haemorrhoids can lead to skin irritation and discomfort and there is usually mucus discharge from the irritated mucous membrane.
Anal bleeding. The lining that covers the piles is quite delicate. If the lining is damaged, for example, as you open your bowels, there may be bleeding. This usually appears as small amounts of bright red blood on the toilet paper or on the surface of the motions. Occasionally, piles cause severe bleeding.
Anal itching and discharge. Piles can cause intense itching of the skin around the anus. You may also experience a mucus discharge.
Haemorrhoids can become inflamed and swollen, but are rarely very painful, unless there is a tear in the anal lining. This is called an anal fissure.
The Haemorrhoidal Artery Ligation – Recto Anal Repair (HAL-RAR) operation is a new minimally invasive procedure designed to eradicate haemorrohoids.
Piles may be completely symptomless, especially if they are small, and many people don’t realise they have them, but they can also cause a range of problems.
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