Piles, also known as hemorrhoids, are veins in the anus and lower rectum that become swollen and inflamed. There are various causes of piles, including straining during bowel movements or from increased pressure on the veins during pregnancy.
Other than a visual inspection of the anal canal and rectum, a digital rectal exam is used to diagnose internal piles. People who experience signs and symptoms of piles are recommended to schedule an appointment with a physician. Depending on the signs and symptoms, the patient may be referred to a specialist such as a gastroenterologist or a colon and rectal surgeon.
Complications are uncommon, however, anemia and strangulated hemorrhoids may occur — when blood supply to an internal hemorrhoid is cut off and the hemorrhoid becomes strangulated, causing extreme pain and leading to gangrene.
Piles can be treated with the use of home treatments as well as by making lifestyle changes. Consuming more high-fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, or drinking fiber supplements, such as Metamucil and Citrucel, is recommended. In some instances, medications or surgical procedures are necessary. If there is mild discomfort from the piles, physicians may recommend over-the-counter creams, ointments, suppositories or pads that contain witch hazel or hydrocortisone to temporarily relieve pain and itching.
If a blood clot forms within an external pile, an incision is used to remove the clot. With cases of persistent bleeding or painful piles, physicians may recommend another minimally invasive procedure — rubber band ligation, sclerotherapy or coagulation — which can all be done in a physician’s office or outpatient setting.