It’s time to know the in’s and out’s!
Haemorrhoids are often the butt of jokes (pun intended) – but in reality, they’re a remarkably common problem that many people hide. They can cause pain, itching, and bleeding in the anal area, but surprise, surprise, no-one likes talking about them.
While they often resolve without significant intervention, many need to seek medical or home remedies to improve the symptoms.
But what do haemorrhoids have to do with gut health? How can you reduce the risk of haemorrhoids or deal with them if they are a problem?
What are haemorrhoids?
They are a pillow-like cluster of veins in the smooth muscle wall of the anus or lower rectum. While almost everyone has haemorrhoids, about 1 in 4 experience bulging and distention of these veins through the process of inflammation. This bulging causes symptoms and warrants some intervention.
Haemorrhoids are classified as either internal or external, depending on their location. Typically, external haemorrhoids are the ones that cause troublesome symptoms.
Some of the symptoms that indicate you may have haemorrhoids include:
- Extreme itching around the anal area
- Irritation and pain around the anus
- Pain when you are moving your bowels
- Bright red bloodstains on the toilet paper after bowel movements.
- Mucus and/or faecal leakage
- Hard and painful lumps felt around the anal area.
If you have any of these symptoms and haven’t seen a doctor, it’s crucial to determine if the symptoms you’re experiencing are related to haemorrhoids. They could be due to a more serious gut disorder, such as tumours or irritable bowel syndrome, and these need to be ruled out.
A doctor diagnoses haemorrhoids, and they do this by investigating your medical history and symptoms. You will also need to have a digital rectal exam (I know, cringe-worthy but necessary to make the correct diagnosis). This exam is where the doctor checks for abnormalities around and in the anus. They need to visualise or at least feel the lumps or masses to know if additional testing is required to rule out more sinister issues.
Haemorrhoids are graded for identification purposes by medical professionals. Weird, I know, but they do this to monitor for improvement or worsening of the condition over time.
The grades start as haemorrhoids that bleed but do not prolapse (meaning they don’t bulge out). Then they develop into prolapsed but spontaneously reduce (go back into the smooth muscle wall). Next, they prolapse but must be manually reduced, and finally, they are classified as prolapsed but can’t be reduced.
What does gut health have to do with haemorrhoids?
A lot, actually.
Haemorrhoids develop with increases in pressure to the blood vessels. Numerous factors can potentially cause an increase in pressure. These include:
- Low fibre diets that result in denser, drier stools that cause straining during bowel movements.
- An inflamed and leaky gut with too much harmful gut bacteria contributes to constipation. The gut has its own nervous system called the enteric nervous system. When gut health is compromised, such as being inflamed, this nervous system does not function properly, resulting in constipation.
- Pregnancy can also be an instigator of haemorrhoids. This situation can’t be avoided due to the enlarged uterus putting downward pressure on the rectum. There can also be weakening of the muscles due to hormonal changes.
- Excessive weight through obesity can cause more pressure in the rectum.
- Prolonged sitting and standing can also put you more at risk as blood may pool in the anal canal when in a stationary position.
- Other conditions include lifting heavy weights inappropriately and a family history of haemorrhoids.
What to do about Haemorrhoids
While most haemorrhoids resolve on their own, some people need to turn to treatment options for faster symptom relief due to the discomfort.
Over the counter (OTC) pain relievers can be useful but avoid aspirin if you have bleeding haemorrhoids. If bleeding does occur and you haven’t had this condition diagnosed, you need to see your health care professional.
Some easy and safe methods to reduce pain, inflammation and irritation of haemorrhoids involve applying wrapped ice packs to the irritated area, using alcohol-free baby wipes over dry toilet paper, and sitting on cushions rather than hard surfaces. OTC creams and suppositories can also help treat haemorrhoid symptoms. Most treatments available, whether over the counter or prescribed, work to control the symptoms. However, prevention is better than a cure.
How do I prevent Haemorrhoids?
It would be best if you consumed a diet that supports regular bowel movements. That means you need to get adequate fibre and fluid into your diet.
According to the Australian and New Zealand dietary fibre reference values, we need to be consuming between 25-30 grams of fibre depending on our age and sex.
It’s essential to increase your fibre intake by about 5gm increments slowly; otherwise, you may experience gas, bloating, or cramping. Using Gut Performance™ can help you get adequate fibre intake of the right fibre if you are having difficulty getting it from food alone. The suitable fibre to prevent constipation is the insoluble fibre. It draws moisture into the stool and bulks it out to improve the ease of passage through the intestine. Gut Performance™ is full of both soluble and insoluble fibre.
You should also ensure adequate hydration with water, so your pee is a light tinge of yellow. You’ll need to drink more water if you are losing extra fluid through sweat.
Another tip to prevent constipation or irritation of your haemorrhoids is to avoid eating spicy foods and drinking alcohol (Pigot, Siproudhis, & Allaert, 2005).
Lifestyle factors can prevent or reduce the risk of haemorrhoids. Avoid straining during bowel movements. If it isn’t coming, it isn’t coming! Sometimes if you change your position and squat or use a potty seat to lift your feet and knees higher in the seated position, this can assist in more effortless bowel movements. It also helps if you use the toilet as soon as you feel the urge to have a bowel movement.
Always include regular moderate exercise in your daily activities as this gets things moving.
If haemorrhoids persist, there are more aggressive treatment options that can be discussed with your doctor. Just remember that haemorrhoids are not life-threatening, but patience and appropriate preventative tips are the best way to manage them.
Don’t forget to support your gut health through Gut Performance™. It will improve intestinal absorption, reduce gut inflammation, and load you up with an active prebiotic to bring your gut microbiome back to a healthy environment and insoluble fibre to keep you regular.
Pigot, F., Siproudhis, L., & Allaert, F. A. (2005). Risk factors associated with hemorrhoidal symptoms in specialized consultation. Gastroenterologie clinique et Biologique, 29(12), 1270-1274. doi:doi.org/10.1016/s0399-8320(05)82220-1