Of Haemorrhoids and the Trustworthiness of Internet Information

I have haemorrhoids. Or piles, if you prefer. Or those funny little grape like protruberances that can appear at the entrance to our gut at a part of the body that is best not described in an up-market blog like this one! They are pesky things that are common as you grow older – particularly if you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) like me.

Now my IBS more-or-less disappeared the moment I went vegetarian and hasn’t bothered me since, but unfortunately the same cannot be said for the haemorrhoids. Recently I had to go for a bowel scope – something that is now provided by the NHS to people of a certain age to check for signs of bowel cancer. The endoscopist took one look at my haemorrhoids and asked why they had not been banded – a procedure where they place a tight elastic band over aforementioned protruberances and wait for them to drop off through lack of blood supply.

Here we got to a problem because none of the health professionals involved seemed to agree about the best course of action. Only three years ago a consultant in Lincolnshire told me the haemorrhoids were too big to band and that the only option if I wanted to remove them was surgery – risky, painful, and not recommended unless you’re desperate.

I went to my GP who, in wonderful contradiction to the aforementioned hospital professionals, advised me to do nothing at all. All the procedures can be painful, he said, and the haemorrhoids can regrow. They’re a natural thing, he said, and unlike the hospital staff a GP sees the longer-term outcomes for patients. I should check out the information available on the internet and come back to him with my decision on how to proceed.

This was refreshing, but of course it immediately begs the question: what information can you trust when you search online?

The internet is an amazing thing, but you have to think about the motivation of the people who post information there. Those logging their experiences are more often than not those who have had a bad time of it. It is hard to get a balanced view. NHS sites are informative, but do not give success rates or long-term outcomes and tend to come from a Western, pro-medical intervention, point of view.

I attended a wonderful event recently at the brilliant Nottingham Contemporary. It was a discussion forum with the title ‘Media Gone Mental’. We considered questions about digital technology and our relationship to it. We looked at online identities, questions of intelligence and creativity, and whether digital technologies are good for us. The event was co-hosted by CaSMa (Citizen-centric approaches to Social Media analysis) and the Institute of Mental Health, as well as the Making Waves project that seeks to challenge current understandings about people who have experienced mental distress.

I love Nottingham for being a city that has so many stimulating opportunities to engage in discussion and debate. People are into ideas here, and proper communication. It was so nice to sit in a circle with an assortment of complete strangers, eating the best samosas I’ve ever tasted and, if not quite putting the world to rights, at least looking at the issues head on.

One of the questions posed at this event was ‘Is computer technology the democratization of knowledge or its commodification?’ This intrigued me, and I came to the conclusion that for me it is closer to the second of these options. Everything that is uploaded into cyberspace has a person or organization behind it – someone with an audience in mind and motives that are not always clear at first glance. Even our personal pages on Facebook and other social media represent filtered and untrustworthy versions of ourselves.

So, when researching my haemorrhoid options, I did so with my truth-seeker antennae set to maximum sensitivity. I searched on patient opinion sites, and NHS pages, and sites where companies have a stake in selling you something. I found alternative remedies that the GP had never heard about – nutritional supplements which, after much delving, appear to have some clinical evidence to recommend them. Unfortunately these are not currently available in the UK. I learnt a lot about haemorrhoids – and that I definitely want to avoid surgery.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a total cynic. I find the information available online invaluable. But I like the internet best for the personal connections it allows us to engage in. The internet is an fascinating place and I have encountered some intriguing people and wonderful ideas there. It may not have helped my decision about haemorrhoid banding, but I’ve learnt a lot of other interesting stuff along the way.


Trying to work at my computer with my cat alternately sitting on my paperwork and sitting on my lap.

annedegruchy.co.uk image: cat on lap while working


Returning to the Carers’ Support Group after a gap of a few months. I had been distressed the last time I attended, and was worried about how this had affected the people there, but they are a lovely bunch of people and it felt good to go back. I also received a lot of support from the Alzheimer’s Society manager on my return – so a big ‘thank you’ to everyone involved.

© Anne de Gruchy

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