Haemorrhoids, or piles, as they’re more affectionately known are a common side effect of pregnancy, and one you probably won’t find your new friends in your NCT class readily admit to having. We asked Mr Nick West, Consultant General Surgeon at The Private Clinic of Harley Street to give us the down low on exactly what they are, how to treat, and if you’re in the early stages of pregnancy, how to avoid.
There’s no denying that pregnancy has some less than desirable side effects when it comes to a woman’s body. Nausea, exhaustion, stretch marks, aches and pains, varicose veins… these are all common side effects for women carrying and growing a baby, and the list goes on.
One other such common condition which often effects pregnant women, or women after childbirth, is haemorrhoids. And I find that women often choosing to suffer in silence rather than to seek help for the issue because of embarrassment they feel around talking about their symptoms.
However, there really is no need to feel embarrassment. Haemorrhoids are incredibly common in pregnancy so doctors will be very used to talking about them and helping patients who are suffering with them.
But firstly, what are they. Well, haemorrhoids are essentially caused from dilated blood vessels due to increased pressure on the pelvis. When you are pregnant these haemorrhoids are more likely to form as the veins below your uterus become swollen and stretched and the weight of your growing baby increases pressure on these veins.
Constipation during pregnancy is also a key factor in the development of these haemorrhoids. The straining that comes with this can aggravate, or even cause, haemorrhoids. As well as this, the additional straining further increases the pressure on the vein in your rectal area meaning that they swell and bulge.
There are some steps you can take to reduce the chance of developing haemorrhoids. Kegal exercises that help strengthen the muscles around the vagina, urethra and anus have proved to be extremely effective. As well as this, avoiding sitting or standing for long periods of time is very important and a regular walking regime it vital for keeping your bowel moving as normal.
If you do develop the condition though, then you may want to seek advice sooner rather than later. They may go away untreated but also can continue to get worse, although often you will be advised to wait until after the birth before considering any form or procedure, as they will tend to settle down a bit once the pressure on the pelvis is relieved. You should always get symptoms such as bleeding from the anus checked by a doctor straight away though. Whilst it is most likely to be caused by haemorrhoids, this is also a symptom of other more serious conditions so should never be ignored.
If your haemorrhoids do persist after child birth, then there are some lifestyle changes you should consider as first steps to help manage the condition and any associated pain. These include staying hydrated and drinking lots of water, avoiding constipation and spending too much time on the toilet, increasing the amount of fibre in your diet, using baby wipes or moist toilet paper rather than dry paper, patting instead of rubbing with toilet paper, and over the counter topical treatments and pain killers.
If your haemorrhoids persist for more than a couple of months after childbirth though, then it is probably time to consult a specialist.
One treatment option now available is a fairly new treatment called the Rafaelo procedure. This is a treatment offering a solution with a quicker recovery time than with more traditional surgical options. With Rafaelo the haemorrhoids are treated with radiofrequency ablation which may occur under local anaesthetic, if appropriate, and can take as little as 15 minutes. You can find out more information on this treatment method, here.
So there are options out there for women suffering. Most importantly though, women should never be shy about seeking help for a medical condition, especially one as commonplace as haemorrhoids, and especially following pregnancy and childbirth. Your body has just done an incredible thing, and is something you should be incredibly proud of, as opposed to embarrassed about.
For more information or to book a consultation with Mr Nick West, Consultant Colorectal Surgeon, visit The Private Clinic.