What are piles and what are the latest ways to treat them?
Our expert guide tells you how to get to the bottom of haemorrhoids.
More than half of us will suffer from haemorrhoids at some point, yet most people are too embarrassed to seek help.
Nick West, consultant surgeon at The Private Clinic of Harley Street, tells us what we need to know about this delicate area…
What are piles and how do I know if I have them?
They’re an enlarged version of the vascular ‘cushions’ we have inside our back passage to help control bowel movements.
You can’t always tell you have piles by looking, because they are often hidden internally, but they often form as a round lump that’s dark blue or purple in colour because of the restricted blood flow.
‘If you have pain or bleeding, see your GP to rule out anything more sinister,’ says Mr West. ‘Don’t let embarrassment put you off.
“Whatever you have, we’ll have seen it before. The earlier you seek help, the easier piles are to treat.’
What causes piles?
They’re caused by an increase in pelvic pressure. Common triggers are pregnancy, constipation and spending a long time straining on the loo.
Contrary to myth, they are NOT caused by sitting on cold or hard surfaces.
How are they treated?
Piles often disappear on their own and only need treating if they are causing uncomfortable symptoms, says Mr West.
‘Look at your diet and toilet habits first. That might be all you need to get rid of them.
‘Creams from chemists don’t cure piles, but they will ease itching and inflammation until they hopefully clear up spontaneously.’
Are there any new treatments?
Rafaelo is a new, privately available treatment that destroys piles in 15 minutes using radiofrequency. It’s done under local anaesthetic or sedation.
‘A probe is inserted into the haemorrhoid, and radiofrequency energy makes it shrink and disappear,’ says Mr West.
‘The downtime is minimal and patients go home the same day. I’ve used it successfully with patients who would otherwise have needed surgery.’
Piles are graded 1-4, and Rafaelo is suitable for grades 1-3, but grade 4 will likely need surgical removal.
Case study: ‘It was the size of a queen olive’
Alison*, 28, had treatment with Mr West after suffering with piles for years…
It was a shopping trip I’ll never forget. I felt a horrible pain in my bottom and when I looked in the mirror I saw blood all down the back of my cream trousers. I didn’t even have a coat to hide it. I fled home, humiliated.
I’d had piles on and off for years, but now it’d reached the point where I was bleeding daily, and the piles would often prolapse and pop out. I’d try to avoid going to the toilet because I dreaded the pain. Even sitting down could be very uncomfortable.
I spent a lot of time with a mirror between my legs, trying to see what was going on. I’d avoid having sex with my partner if I was having a bad episode. Piles are absolutely not the thing to make you feel sexy.
I spent a lot time Googling treatments, and that’s when I came across Rafaelo. The thought of a consultation was mortifying but Mr West was very professional and there was a female chaperone in the room.
After being examined, he told me I had two internal haemorrhoids. The largest was the size of a queen olive! I was so happy when he told me the treatment would work for me.
The treatment only took 30 minutes with sedation. When a nurse handed me a glass of water afterwards, I thought I was still waiting to be put to sleep.
That night, the discomfort from the treatment was mild – it was nothing like the constant pain I’d been used to for years. I was nervous the first time I went to the toilet but it didn’t hurt.
In fact, since the day I had the treatment I’ve had no symptoms whatsoever. Not having to worry about piles any more has totally changed my life.
*Name has been changed
Consultant Laparoscopic General and Colorectal Surgeon, Mr Amit Patel joins us at our Birmingham Haemorrhoid private clinic to offer the Rafaelo® haemorrhoid Removal Procedure.