Dec. 19, 2012 -- Google's annual roundup of the year's top search trends revealed that people took to the internet to learn more about Whitney Houston, Hurricane Sandy and Big Bird, but an unlikely pain in the butt joined the group, too: hemorrhoids.
The top trending health issue in the United States this year was "hemorrhoids," according to Google's annual "zeitgeist" roundup of the world's hottest search trends, and doctors say it may be because patients would rather ask Google than their physicians.
"I'm not exactly surprised that it is something people would rather Google as opposed to discuss it with their doctors," said Dr. Patrick Okolo, chief of endoscopy at Johns Hopkins Hospital. "Even though it is very common and affects anywhere from 14 to 20 million Americans, most people do not discuss it with their doctors for those reasons."
Hemorrhoids are swollen veins in the anus or lower rectum, caused by any condition that could impede the flow of blood back to the heart and lungs. Pregnancy, straining or having a difficult time in the bathroom are among the causes of hemorrhoids.
Google zeitgeist spokeswoman Roya Soleimani said it's not clear why hemorrhoids shot to the top of the list this year, but its spot on the trends list (instead of the most searched list) means that its popularity is unique to 2012.
"I'm not quite sure why there was a spike in hemorrhoid searches this year, but something that was distinct and showed in the data brought it to number one," Soleimani said.
Since about one in 25 hemorrhoids are caused by obesity, it's possible that America's expanding waistlines are also to blame for the extra internet searches, Okolo said.
It's often blood on the toilet paper that tips most people off to their hemorrhoids, though many people have no symptoms, he said. Despite what he called an urban legend, hemorrhoids are not painful unless they're infected or associated with a tear in the anal canal.
However, 12 percent of rectal bleeding is serious.
"It's a serious symptom and one that is often ignored," Okolo said. "Probably a good proportion of the 47,000 to 50,000 deaths in this country to colon cancer probably start in ignored rectal bleeding."
Other top health search trends unique to 2012 included diaper rash, gastroesophageal reflux disease and diarrhea. Soleimani said "pregnancy symptoms," a common search every year, topped Google's symptom search for 2012.
"Celiac disease" came in at No. 9 on Google's list. Soleimani found it especially interesting because "What is gluten?" was a top search last year.
But celiac disease isn't new, said gastroenterologist Dr. Kelly Thomsen, who works at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt. It was discovered during World War II food shortages, when a physician noticed that his patients who had chronic diarrhea and stomach problems suddenly found relief when they were forced to cut grains out of their diets.
Celiac disease is an immune system response to gluten -- the protein in wheat, barley and rye – that damages the intestines, Thomsen said. About one in 133 people have it.
"I don't think we're truly having a surge in the number of people affected by celiac disease, but there's probably more awareness," she said.
Celebrities like Emmy Rossum, Elizabeth Hasselbeck and Keith Olberman have all gone public with their celiac disease within the last few years.
Hungry for more gluten-free celebs? Click here for a slideshow.