Why Do Some People Call Hemorrhoids “Piles”?

Medically reviewed by: Gary H. Hoffman, MD

You’re certainly not the first person to wonder why hemorrhoids are called piles. We hear the question fairly regularly in our practice, although most of our patients are usually more concerned with getting relief than understanding the etymology of this colloquial term.

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No matter if you tell us you think you have a hemorrhoid issue or if you describe your symptoms as piles, we will understand. We encourage you to use whatever language you are comfortable with, just describe your symptoms as completely as possible so we can be sure we don’t miss anything. Of course, we will still need to perform a visual exam using an anoscope. In most cases, there is no need to perform a colonoscopy or other tests if we discover inflamed hemorrhoids.

What Is the Difference in a Hemorrhoid and a Pile?

Technically, everyone has hemorrhoids. They are pads of tissue and blood vessels that occur inside and just outside of the anus. Their purpose is to help you control the release of stool. These tissues go unnoticed until something happens and they become irritated.

When they become swollen or inflamed, you get the tell-tale symptoms of the condition most people refer to as “hemorrhoids.” The phrase “piles” always refers to the hemorrhoids in an inflamed and irritated state. Most people, including many medical personnel, use the terms interchangeably when talking about related problems.

Piles occur when the normal hemorrhoidal tissue weakens or becomes irritated to the point of bleeding. Often this occurs because you are straining to pass hard stools because of constipation. Diarrhea can also cause a problem for some people. Pregnant women are at an increased risk, as are those with a family history of hemorrhoids, and those with sedentary jobs.

Inflamed internal hemorrhoids often have no symptoms at all, unless they bleed or slip down the anal canal and prolapse (fall out). External piles cause burning pain after bowel movements, and itching and pain throughout the day. They often resolve on their own, and cause few additional health problems. It is still important to get an accurate diagnosis, though, since they may share symptoms with more serious conditions.

So Why Are Hemorrhoids Called Piles?

Of course, there is still the matter of exactly why hemorrhoids are called piles. The history of this name, as in many other medical conditions, stems from a Latin root. In the case of piles, experts believe it comes from the Latin word pila. Pila roughly translates to “balls.” If you ever see an inflamed hemorrhoid, you will understand this nickname much better.

Many hemorrhoids do, in fact, appear as small round balls. When we perform an exam, we look for a small cluster of balls — similar to a small bunch of grapes or berries — protruding from the anus. This is a prolapsed internal hemorrhoid. External hemorrhoids also look like balls, emerging from the tissue around the rim or just outside the anal opening. Most are small, pea-sized. Some, however, can grow much larger.

Why Haven’t You Seen a Doctor to Discuss Your Piles?

Even though suffering from piles is a somewhat common situation, many people are not comfortable talking to their doctors or a hemorrhoid specialist about their symptoms. By the time they reach age 50, more than half of the population has had them, but it’s still somewhat taboo to discuss the condition — no matter which name you prefer — because of the area it affects.

We see patients everyday in our clinical practice who suffer from piles much longer than necessary simply because they were too embarrassed to seek treatment sooner. We strive to provide a comfortable and understanding environment where you can openly talk about your symptoms and concerns, and where you will receive the best treatment available based on the specific details of your situation. We offer in-office, nonsurgical, and surgical treatments for hemorrhoids, and can help you put a treatment plan in place that gives you the best chance for lasting relief.

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