Anal fistula

Rectum fistula

Last Updated December 20th, 2021

What is an anal fistula?

An anal fistula is a narrow tunnel between an infected gland in the anorectal region to the skin surrounding the anus (perianal skin). Fistulas are a result of an accumulation of pus or abscess in the tissue close to the anus. Patients with this condition generally report discomfort, inflammation, skin irritation and pain in the anal region. Anal fistulas need medical intervention and do not heal by themselves. Most treatment for fistulas involves surgery and medication.

The human body excretes faeces through the external opening called the anus. The anal region contains numerous glands in small sizes that secrete mucus. It is possible that these glands can be clogged, which eventually leads to infection. The infection causes pus to form which leads to an abscess. Nearly 50% of these abscesses have the possibility of developing into a fistula.

Many people get confused between anal fissures, fistula, and hemorrhoids. Read in detail about them to know the exact causes, symptoms, and treatment.

Symptoms of an anal fistula

The following symptoms give an indication of the presence of an anal fistula :

  • Pain while having a bowel movement
  • Irritation in the skin around the anal region
  • Pus and blood in the stools
  • Foul smelling discharge from the anal area
  • Discomfort and nagging pain that increases with movement. Severe pain while sitting, sneezing or coughing.
  • Regular abscess in the anal area
  • Inflammation and redness in the anal area
  • Fever especially with an abscess
  • In rare cases, bowel incontinence also occurs
  • Hole on the skin near the anus, which marks the end of the fistula and is visible during physical examination
  • Fatigue

Take a medical opinion in case you suffer from any of the above symptoms.

What are the important causes behind anal fistula?

The anus contains many glands that produce fluid. There is a possibility that these glands can be clogged. The clogged glands can result in the growth of bacteria and the accumulation of fluid. This can lead to inflamed tissue, which is medically called an abscess.

An untreated abscess develops into a fistula. Usually, when the abscess does not heal, it needs to find a way to drain out the infected fluid or pus. This will punch a hole on the skin near the anus to drain the pus out. The fistula is a tunnel that attaches the gland to the opening on the skin in the anal region.

Although the leading cause of anal fistula is blocked anal glands and abscess, yet sometimes they can develop due to the presence of certain medical conditions or circumstances.

  • Tuberculosis
  • Sexually transmitted disease
  • Cancer
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Trauma
  • Radiation

What are the best methods adopted by medical specialists to diagnose anal fistula?

Not all fistulas are easy to spot. If your doctor suspects you have an anal fistula, a physical exam and a consultation to know your medical history will be the first few steps towards diagnosis.

During the medical examination, the doctor will check for pus and oozing. It is possible that the doctor conducts an internal anal examination by sticking a finger inside your anus.

A proctologist is equipped to perform few tests to have a confirmed diagnosis of anal fistula. The following tests may be conducted:

Anal ultrasound

In this process, high-frequency sound waves capture the surface of the anal canal in imaging forms

Proctoscopy

Doctors perform proctoscopy to view the opening of the tract in the anal canal. In this process, the proctologist uses a specialised telescope with an attached fistula probe, which helps view inside the rectum

MRI and CT scan

In the case of a complex fistula, doctors use MRI imaging to check the anatomy of the tract. Additionally, these tests can also help the proctologist evaluate the extent of inflammation of the anal lining.

You may need to consult a colon and rectal specialist. In some cases,  a colonoscopy is also recommended. A colonoscopy is conducted under anaesthesia.

What are some of the clinical features of an anal fistula?

Generally, anal fistula presents in two ways. Either it presents as irregular or constant discharge of blood, pus, mucus or faeces into the perineum or there is repeated anal abscess. During clinical examination, your doctor may find an external opening on the perineum. The external hole in some cases could be completely open or there could be a granulation tissue cover on it. Doctors conduct a digital rectal investigation and may find the presence of a fibrous tract beneath the skin. 

What are the types of anal fistula ?

There are four types of anal fistulas.

  1. Complete Fistula – Has two openings one that opens internally and another externally
  2. Horseshoe Fistula – This is close to the anus and has a semi-circular tract around the rectum
  3. Blind Fistula – The opening is only one at the end and connects two structures
  4. Incomplete Fistula – In this type of anal fistula, a tube begins from the skin that is shut on the inside and  does not have any connection with any  internal structure

What is the best form of treatment for anal fistula ?

Surgery is the best treatment option for anal fistula. Fistulas do not heal on their own. It is important to know all the treatment options available. Discuss with your surgeon about the potential risks of any procedure they advise. Most of the treatment procedures can be performed in a doctor’s clinic.

Doctors generally use a plug during the surgery to close a simple fistula  after cutting open the skin and muscle surrounding the tunnel. The opening heals faster this way.

In cases where the fistula is more complicated, the specialist uses a tube called the seton. This tube is put into the opening and it drains out the infected fluid before surgery. The position of the fistula is important. The decision to cut into the sphincter muscles (muscles in charge of opening and closing the anus) will depend on the position of the fistula. Though doctors try their best not to damage them, the surgery may hamper the ability to control bowel movements.

There are various procedures to treat anal fistula but the type of procedure is dependent on the position of the fistula. Initially, your doctor may need to conduct the preliminary examination under the influence of anaesthesia to decide the best way to treat anal fistula.

Some of the options in the treatment of anal fistula are listed below:

Fistulotomy

Fistulotomy is the common surgery for anal fistulas. During this procedure, doctors cut the complete length of the fistula. This way the fistula is fully opened up. It appears like a flat scar and promotes faster healing. This form of treatment is only possible if the fistula does not pass through much of the anal sphincter muscles. Doctors always want to minimise the risk of bowel incontinence.

Seton techniques

This technique is used by the surgeon if the fistula passes through a major part of the anal sphincter muscle. Initially, the surgeon may insert a seton.   During this procedure, a piece of surgical thread called a seton is left in the fistula for many weeks. The main intention is to keep the fistula open and allow it to heal. This method intends to avoid surgically cutting the sphincter muscles.

Doctors may employ loose seton or tight ones depending upon the nature of the fistula. Several procedures may be needed until the fistula completely heals. Each time they may open a tiny part of the fistula.

Advancement flap procedure

This procedure may be in the reckoning if the fistula happens to pass through the anal sphincter and the risk of bowel incontinence is very high with a fistulotomy.

In this procedure, the surgeon cuts and scrapes out the fistula. The hole where it enters the bowel is covered with a flap of tissue. The tissue is taken from inside the rectum. The rectum is the last part of the bowel.

The advancement flap procedure helps avoid cutting the anal sphincter muscles. Compared to a fistulotomy, this procedure does not enjoy a good success rate.

LIFT procedure

LIFT which is ‘ligation of the intersphincteric fistula tract ‘ is adopted as a  treatment for fistulas that pass through anal sphincter muscles. This procedure is used if surgeons feel that a fistulotomy is a risky option.

Surgeons make an incision in the skin above the fistula. Next, the surgeon parts the sphincter muscles and then the fistula is closed at both its ends and cut open. It remains flat.  This procedure has shown a good success rate although it is a recent procedure. We still need more statistics to prove its efficacy.

Endoscopic ablation

This procedure involves inserting a tube with a camera, called an endoscope in the fistula. Through the endoscope, an electrode is passed to close and seal the fistula. Endoscopic ablation enjoys a good success rate and is also considered very safe.

Laser surgery

A laser beam that emits laser fibre radically to seal the fistulas, is the core of this treatment procedure. This form of treatment is not risky. Laser-assisted technique is in fact considered to be highly effective in treating anal fistula. Patients recover faster without the need to make frequent visits to the hospital.

Fibrin glue

This type of treatment happens to be the only non-surgical method of treatment for anal fistulas.

During this treatment method, the surgeon injects glue into the fistula under the influence of anaesthesia. The glue works to seal the fistula and promotes faster healing. This treatment is not considered as effective as fistulotomy in the management of simple fistulas. The results may not be as far-reaching too. Surgeons select fibrin glue usually to treat fistulas that are passing through the anal sphincter muscles. Surgeons try to avoid cutting the anal sphincter muscles unless it is necessary.

Bioprosthetic plug

In this procedure, surgeons insert a bioprosthetic plug. This plug is shaped like a cone and is made of animal tissue. This plug is used to block the fistula opening. This procedure is mostly successful and is also considered fairly safe.

What are the most significant risks of anal fistula surgery?

Treatment for anal fistula, like other forms of treatment, carries few risks of complications.  The extent of risks will largely depend on the position of the fistula and the type of surgical procedure undergone. Before you decide on the treatment option, always know the risks and complications of the surgical procedure envisaged.

The risks hover mainly around infection post-treatment or major side effects. Complications post-surgery can include adverse reactions to the anaesthetic, bleeding and risk of infection.  

Some of the major risks of fistula surgery are as follows:

  • Prolonged healing time post-surgery: Most wounds heal within 6 weeks of surgery. In some cases, wounds may take longer to heal and this is one of the risks of surgery for anal fistula.
  • Difficulty in bowel movements due to narrowing of the anal canal
  • Infection – The risk of infection after the surgery to treat anal fistula cannot be ruled out. Doctors usually treat any infection with a course of antibiotics. If the infection is severe, the patient may require hospital admission.
  • Relapse or reappearance of fistula – even though surgery was performed, sometimes the fistula can resurface.
  • Bowel incontinence or losing the control over bowel movement – This is a real risk present with most forms of treatment for anal fistulas. In very rare cases, patients suffer severe bowel incontinence.

What are the steps to follow for post-operative care and recovery?

The recovery time after a surgery for treatment of anal fistula is largely dependent on the type of surgery as well as its complexity. The position of the fistula also plays a role.

Usually, the specialist recommends guidelines to be followed during post-operative care. In most of the cases post-surgery, the wound heals within 6 weeks.

Some of the post-operative guidelines are as follows :

  • For pain relief, patients can take over-the counter pain relievers. Ibuprofen or Paracetamol is adequate
  • Any pain during bowel movements should not be ignored and needs medical attention
  • Clean the wound by washing it many times during the day. Take care to softly  pat it dry and no force or rubbing is advisable on the operated area. Sometimes discharge can leak and can spoil the clothes. An extra gauze cover may be used to protect
  • The wound dressing needs to be changed regularly
  • For first few weeks after the surgery, avoid sexual intercourse
  • Gentle exercise is recommended so that there is no pressure on the healing process

Are there any side effects after the treatment for anal fistula?

Patients that have undergone treatment for anal fistula may experience the following side effects, which may disappear in few days once the healing process kick starts.

  • Site of the wound may feel sore
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Cramping
  • Nausea

Any severe pain while passing motion or a bowel movement should be reported.

Can anal fistula be prevented?

The main cause of anal fistula is the formation of abscesses. Although there is very little one can do to prevent an anal fistula, there are certain steps that can be followed to prevent the formation of abscesses in the anorectal area.

  • Maintain good hygiene and cleanliness in the anal region
  • Do not clean the anal region excessively
  • Consume a high fibre diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Adopt a habit of regular bowel movements to prevent  constipation

How to ensure emotional well-being for those undergoing treatment for anal fistula?

It is not easy for anyone living with an anal fistula. The entire process right from diagnosis to recovery is gradual and this can be quite frustrating. The condition can negatively affect a person’s quality of life. It may be heartening to know that fistula surgery is mostly successful. Further, the rates of recurrence of anal fistulas are relatively low.  There are many surgical treatment options for this condition. The positive aspect is, this condition is not permanent.

People going through this condition can get a lot of support from others with similar experiences.

Best treatment options for anal fistula

Treatment for anal fistula is done in two ways. It can be treated with open surgery or using laser technique.

Anal fistulas heal well after surgery, and it is, therefore, the go-to treatment for this medical condition.  A number of hospitals, nursing homes and clinics offer surgeries for anal fistula.

Further, hospitals offering surgery for anal fistula are well equipped with the latest technology and tools that help deliver best care to patients. Medical surgeons treating fistula are highly experienced and can effectively manage any complications related to the fistula.  Patients can avail the best treatment without worrying about medical bills.

Hospitals offer complete treatment right from consultation to prepare for surgery and post-operative care. Patients approaching hospitals for advice get the following:

  • Patient profiling or getting the complete medical history of the patient
  • Selecting experienced specialist and slotting the appointment for consultation
  • Discussing current trends in treatment of anal fistula with the best form of treatment  
  • Facilitating   medical insurance if any
  • Enabling post-surgery care to expedite healing
  • Enabling consultation on diet and nutrition
  • Tips to prevent fistulas from recurring

 

Facts

Anal fistulas are not the same for everyone. The can differ depending upon the severity of the fistula

Facts

Sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia, HIV, or AIDS can also cause anal fistulas. These diseases attack the immune system

Facts

The laser-assisted technique is by far the most effective method to treat an anal fistula. Also, Fistulotomy has a long-term success rate of 92–97%

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Dos and Don'ts

Dos

Maintain anal hygiene
Regularly exercise for 30 minutes at least
Keep well hydrated
Consume a healthy diet with adequate fruits and vegetables

Don'ts

Strain while passing stool
Put off the urge to poo
Delay medical advice for anal fistula
Attempt self-care for anal fistula
Ignore pain during bowel movements after surgery for anal fistula
Ignore constipation

 

 

 

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Apolipoprotein -A1 (APO-A1) Test Apolipoprotein A-I (Apo-A1) constitutes 70% of protein content in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and helps in lipid metabolism.
CLA: A breakthrough weight loss supplement with minimal side effects Tried every weight loss supplement in the market with no substantial gain? Why not try CLA supplements, derived…
Oxalates: How healthy greens can sometimes be bad news for your kidneys Oxalates are compounds present in a majority of healthy foods. However, at times an overconsumption of these could…
Bubble Tea: Bubbling with nutrition or a hidden sugar mine? The tapioca pearls present in the tea looks like bubbles and hence the name bubble tea became popular.…
CT-scan-machine
CT – Computed Tomography Scan CT scan or computed tomography scan is an diagnostic imaging technique where cross-sectional images of body are obtained…
shiitake mushrooms healthy
What are Shiitake Mushrooms and why should you eat them? Shiitake Mushrooms are well known for their smoky and robust taste. However, did you know they are replete…
smelling-salts-benefits
The actual science behind smelling salts and how it helps in injury recovery Most smelling salts are a mixture of ammonium carbonate and some perfumes which are sniffed by an individual…
low fodmap plan
Troubled with IBS? Here’s a complete roadmap to the low FODMAP diet Leaky & inflammatory gut troubling you? No medicine bringing you relief from the pain? Why not try the…
How accurate is the hair follicle drug test? Hair follicle drug test is one of the best ways to identify drug use in professional circles. But…
Vitamin K2: 8 reasons why you need this bone-building & cancer-fighting nutrient Vitamin K2 is claimed to be essential for your bone health, for reducing the risk of cancer, and…
colposcopy
Colposcopy Colposcopy is a simple, quick and non- invasive diagnostic tool to look closely inside the vulva, vagina, and…
thyroid_scan
Thyroid Scan Thyroid scan is a diagnostic procedure that aims to view the thyroid gland and detect any growths or…
leptospira Igm test
Leptospira-IgM Test A Leptospira-IgM test is a blood test which is carried out to detect anti-Leptospira IgM antibody. Leptospirosis is…
Thyroid disorders
Thyroid Profile Thyroid profile is a panel of blood tests performed to check if an individual is suffering from any…
Jackfruit: Slice your way into higher immunity, better digestion, & more… Native to the South East Asia, the jackfruit is a fruit brimming with thousands of health benefits. Discover…
Vagus nerve: 7 health benefits of stimulating the “gut-brain” connection As a matter of fact, there are two vagus nerves namely the left and the right but is…
reflexology massage
Top reasons why you should go for a reflexology massage today Reflexology involves the application of pressure to your feet and hands to encourage self-healing. Could this be beneficial…
GGt test
GGT – Gamma-Glutamyl Transferase Test GGT or gammaglutamyl transferase test is a liver function test that is used to detect the extent of…
amylase test
Amylase Test Amylase test is done by checking the level of this protein in the blood sample and also in…
fructosamine test
Fructosamine Test A fructosamine test measures blood sugar glucose content. Fructosamine level can indicate blood sugar level in past 2-3…
chloride test
Chloride Test A chloride test of the blood checks the level of chloride in body, an important factor governing the…
cystatin C
Cystatin C Test Cystatin C is a specific single-chain protein that is found in body fluids and is a biomarker for…
woman with abdominal pain holding ovulation calendar
Ovulation – facts to know about ovulation Learn how and when ovulation occurs, demystify common misconceptions, identify symptoms, methods of detection and right period for…
hidden causes obesity
8 hidden causes of obesity you probably didn’t know! Did you know that around 2 billion people worldwide are either overweight or obese? Are you too a…
hidden benefits walking
9 benefits of walking we bet you didn’t know! Did you know walking can be the miracle pill for eternal youth? Everyone knows walking is good for…
Jicama: A fiber-rich tuber for your weight loss goals Pronouced as HEE-kah-ma, Jicama is the "new kid on the block" that has taken the world by the…
dance health benefits
5 unbelievable effects of dance on your overall health! You enjoy dancing, but did you know what else it does to your body? Dancing is not only…
L-theanine attention
L-Theanine: Better sleep, higher focus, and many other benefits Did you know that L-theanine found in green tea can make you sleep better and be focused at…
Juice Plus: Can you really replace actual fruits with pills?  Juice Plus supplements intend to fill nutritional gaps present in our daily diet. But how successful have they…
dandelion weight loss
Caralluma Fimbriata: How to eat this cactus to lose weight Caralluma fimbriata is a miracle cactus that can be safely consumed by most for losing weight and boosting…
Love tea, hate tannins? Rooibos tea is just what you need The market is brimming with a multitude of herbal teas. But what makes rooibos tea (or red bush)…
Tart Cherry: The healthiest excuse for taking that second serving of pie Tart cherry has been traditionally used in delectable desserts such as pies. Recent studies have revealed that its…
Chest X-Ray A chest x-ray is a diagnostic test that uses x-rays to visualize the structures inside your chest. It…
ANTIPHOSPHOLIPIDANTIBODY(APL)_IgG
Antiphospholipid (APL) antibody-IgG The Antiphospholipid Antibody testing is a blood test used to determine an autoimmune disorder called Antiphospholipid syndrome linked…
antihepatitis core antigent
Anti-Hepatitis B Core Antigen (AHBc) Total Anti-hepatitis B core antigen (AHBC ) is a blood examination and the only serological marker of infectious blood…
complement c4 test
Anemia Profile Anemia Profile test (Basic) is a blood screening test that measures the levels of important components of the…
iron deficiency profile
Iron Deficiency Profile An iron deficiency profile is a battery of blood tests which are performed in order to determine the…
Okra: How can this nutrient-dense vegetable help you fight diabetes? Okra is a food which is rich in nutrients and minerals which are extremely essential for a healthy…
Optavia diet
The features of an Optavia diet The Optavia diet endorses pre-packaged meals and snacks called "fuelings" that are tasty, low in calorie, and incorporates…
lose weight fast
12 easy and instant steps to successful weight loss Do you want to lose weight without losing your mind? Does weight loss always mean saying goodbye to…
Kava: Is it the healthy substitute for alcohol you have been waiting for? Native to the beautiful South Pacific islands, Kava is a famous beverage rooted in the local culture. It…
What to eat, what not to eat in the South Beach Diet? The South Beach Diet is one among the most popular weight loss programs that have been the talk…
Piaget stages: Do they accurately describe the way the human brain develops?  A common assumption was that children are less competent thinkers as compared to adults, but this was refuted…
Balneotherapy jacuzzi
5 things you didn’t know about balneotherapy and how you can do it at home Sauna baths have been popular since a long time. But how much more beneficial can balneotherapy be as…
valproic acid test
Valproic Acid Test Valproic acid test is performed to generally check for psychiatric and even neurological conditions such as bipolar disease…
PROGESTERONE_test
Progesterone test The progesterone test is a blood test used to determine the level of hormone progesterone in the blood…
sodium blood test
Blood Sodium Test A blood sodium test measures the amount of sodium (an important electrolyte) in your body. It is also…
alcohol toxic
7 startling facts that will make you quit alcohol today Does drinking really make you friendly and happy? How many calories does a can of cold beer add…
carrageenan seaweed
Carrageenan: How a simple seaweed extract could better your gut health & immunity Eat more ice cream to prevent cold and flu? –With carrageenan you get one simple seaweed extract that…
sugar toxic health
Sugar: 7 new shocking truths revealed about the sweet poison Can drinking soda bring you closer to death? Is sugar slowly poisoning you and your family? You would…
aspartame or sugar
Aspartame – Hidden truths about this storm in a teacup Aspartame, the artificial sweetener, has gone under the scanner on several occasions for allegedly doing more harm than…
improve digestion weight loss
Power up your gut: 8 proven steps on how to improve your digestion Did you know you have a colony of bacteria in your gut that help you in digesting food?…
Agave nectar: The bitter truth about this sweetener revealed Agave nectar is considered to be sweeter than the normal table sugar and even contains higher amounts of…
Plexus Slim: Is this pink slimming drink the ultimate one-stop fat burner? How effective is Plexus Slim in helping people lose weight? What are its ingredients? Can it be safely…
Find all the instant ways to get rid of blackheads Blackheads - Not only are they aesthetically unappealing but if left untreated these can cause bacterial overgrowth on…
How to correctly perform nasal irrigation using a Neti Pot? Neti pot has been a part of Ayurveda since centuries. This ancient tool is extremely effective in treating…
The Cabbage Soup Diet: The healthiest way to instant weight loss Cabbage soup diet rapid weight loss diet for those who want to shed those extra pounds in less…
These are the top foods to increase your hemoglobin count It is important to add iron-rich foods into your diet in order to increase hemoglobin. Deficiency of hemoglobin could…
Atkins diet weight loss
Atkins Diet: The right steps to carb control that can help you lose those pounds fast The Atkins diet is a high fat, low-carb diet with proven weight loss benefits that is flexible enough…
myelogram
Myelography Myelography is an important diagnostic tool that is used to investigate and identify abnormalities in the spine and…
phenytoin test
Phenytoin test Phenytoin is a drug that is administered mainly to epilepsy patients. The phenytoin blood test measures the level…
social media adddiction
Your health in the age of Social Media: Why is digital detox a necessity? Did you know that more than 400 million people are dangerously addicted to social media? Are you one…
nature health benefits
Green Healing: The amazing health benefits of being in nature You have no idea what sitting in a closed room does to your body and mind.Can a stroll…
acne removal tips
Anatomy of acne: 7 instant steps to kiss those zits goodbye Blackheads, whiteheads, or pimples-call them what you may. Acne is never good news.Did you know some of the…