Haemorrhoids, also known as piles, are swellings containing enlarged blood vessels found inside or around the bottom (the rectum and anus).
In many cases, haemorrhoids don't cause symptoms and some people don't even realise they have them.
However, when symptoms do occur, they may include:
Haemorrhoids aren't usually painful, unless their blood supply slows down or is interrupted.
See your GP if you have persistent or severe symptoms of haemorrhoids. You should always get any rectal bleeding checked so your doctor can rule out more potentially serious causes.
The symptoms of haemorrhoids often clear up on their own, or by using simple treatments that can be bought from a pharmacy without a prescription.
Speak to your GP if your symptoms don't get better or you experience pain or bleeding.
Your GP can often diagnose haemorrhoids using a simple internal examination of your back passage, although they may need to refer you to a colorectal specialist for diagnosis and treatment.
Some people with haemorrhoids are reluctant to see their GP. But there's no need to be embarrassed – GPs are very used to diagnosing and treating haemorrhoids.
Read more about diagnosing haemorrhoids.
The exact cause of haemorrhoids is unclear, but they're associated with increased pressure in the blood vessels in and around your anus. This pressure can cause the blood vessels in your back passage to become swollen and inflamed.
Many cases are thought to be caused by too much straining on the toilet as a result of prolonged constipation. This is often caused by a lack of fibre in a person's diet.
Chronic (long-term) diarrhoea can also make you more vulnerable to getting haemorrhoids.
Other factors that might increase your risk of developing haemorrhoids include:
Haemorrhoid symptoms often settle down after a few days without needing treatment. Haemorrhoids that occur during pregnancy often get better after giving birth.
Making lifestyle changes to reduce the strain on the blood vessels in and around your anus is often recommended.
These can include:
These measures can also reduce the risk of haemorrhoids returning or even developing in the first place.
Medication that you apply directly to your back passage (topical treatments) or tablets bought from a pharmacy or prescribed by your GP may ease your symptoms and make it easier for you to pass stools.
There are various treatment options for more severe haemorrhoids. One of these options is banding, a non-surgical procedure where a very tight elastic band is put around the base of the haemorrhoid to cut off its blood supply. The haemorrhoid should fall off after about a week.
Surgery carried out under general anaesthetic, where you're unconscious, is sometimes used to remove or shrink large or external haemorrhoids.