Does your a**hole get itchy sometimes? There might be more to it than hygiene (or the lack thereof, that is). Anal itching can also be a symptom of piles, which is pretty much engorged blood vessels around the anus. Otherwise known as haemorrhoids, piles are blood vessel “cushions” located within the anus and the lower rectum.

What are piles?

We all have these blood vessel “cushions”—we just only notice them when there is bleeding, pain, prolapse or discharge. According to Dr Quah Hak Mien, a colorectal surgeon at Gleneagles Hospital, they provide control of continence, allowing us to pass motion without leaking stools.

Some of the common causes of piles include long-term constipation and excessive straining of your rectum when you’re trying to poop, but pregnant women are typically more prone to piles.

“Piles can enlarge, protrude and prolapse, and their walls can also get thinned out and bleed, causing discomfort and itch,” he explains. He points out that when the blood vessels are engorged, the condition is considered symptomatic or diseased. But you don’t have to fret if you have them because they’re hardly unusual: symptomatic piles affect about a third of the population in Singapore.

Piles is usually easily treated and can be prevented

Dr Quah says that early stage piles can usually be treated without surgery. Mild internal piles can be treated with medication or rubber band ligation, which involves tying the base of the hemorrhoid with a rubber band to stop blood flow to the hemorrhoid.

He however points out that prevention is better than cure—and that the regular consumption of fibre will help reduce your troubles on the toilet.

“For most people, increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables will improve their constipation, so they won’t need to strain [their rectums] as much. It’ll also help to have plenty of water and to eat foods such as wholemeal breads or cereals,.”

And while piles isn’t a serious condition, Dr Quah recommends consulting your doctor than self-medicating because you never know if you might require further tests.

“Symptoms of piles such as bleeding are similar to that caused by more serious conditions like colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is the number one common cancer in Singapore. Your doctor may recommend a colonoscopy to check your large intestines internally before treatment of your piles.”