A fistula is an anal or rectal affliction. It is an abnormal connection between two body parts, namely, between the anal canal and the skin around the anus.
Fistulas can also occur between the rectum and vagina, but it is much less common. The one occurring around the anus is known as an anal fistula. If you suspect you might be affected by fistula, here is everything you need to know.
What is an anal fistula?
An abscess, a painful cavity in the anus, may lead to a fistula between it and the skin surrounding the anus. The external opening through which feces pass from the body is known as the anus. Just inside the anus are a pair of tiny glands that produce mucus. These glands might become clogged and infected occasionally, resulting in an abscess. Fistulas may develop in these abscesses.
What are the causes of Anal Fistula?
Several factors can lead to the development of an anal fistula. One common cause is Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Other causes include:
- Trauma to the anus or rectum
What are the Symptoms of Anal Fistula?
The most common symptom of an anal fistula is pain, especially during bowel movements. Other symptoms may include:
- Drainage of pus or blood from the anus
- Pain during intercourse
How is an Anal Fistula Diagnosed?
Anal fistulas are typically diagnosed through a physical examination and imaging tests. Your doctor will do a visual examination of the anal area. They may also perform a rectal exam by inserting a gloved finger into the rectum to feel for any abnormalities. If they suspect that you have an anal fistula, they may order one or more of the following imaging tests:
- CT scan
- Endoanal ultrasound
How is an Anal Fistula Treated?
The goal of treatment for an anal fistula is to heal it without causing too much discomfort. Several different treatment options are available, and the best one for you will depend on the location and severity of your fistula. Treatment options include:
Surgery is typically the most effective treatment for an anal fistula. The type of surgery will depend on the location and severity of the fistula. Sometimes, an incision can drain the abscess and close the fistula. In other cases, a more complex surgery may be necessary to remove the infected tissue and close the fistula.
If you have a small, superficial fistula that is not causing much discomfort, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to help clear the infection. They may also prescribe medications to help reduce inflammation and pain.
A number of home remedies can help relieve the symptoms of an anal fistula. These include sitz baths, which can help soothe pain and reduce inflammation. You can also try applying a warm compress to the area several times daily.
Who is at a higher risk of an Anal Fistula?
Several factors can increase your risk of developing an anal fistula. These include:
- Crohn’s disease: This chronic inflammatory bowel disease can cause fistulas to form in the gastrointestinal tract.
- Infections: Infections in the anal area, such as abscesses, commonly cause anal fistulas.
- Trauma: Injury to the anal area, such as surgery or childbirth, can increase your risk of developing a fistula.
- Immune system disorders: Conditions that weaken the immune system, such as HIV/AIDS, make you more susceptible to infections and other conditions that can lead to anal fistulas.
What are the Complications of Anal Fistula?
If left untreated, an anal fistula can lead to several complications, including:
- Infection: Anal fistulas are often associated with infections. If the infection spreads, it can cause sepsis, a potentially life-threatening condition.
- Fistula bleeding: Anal fistulas can sometimes bleed. It can lead to iron deficiency anemia if the bleeding is severe.
- Pain and discomfort: Anal fistulas can be painful and uncomfortable. You may experience pain during bowel movements.
- Incontinence: In some cases, anal fistulas can cause incontinence (leakage of stool or gas).
- Fistula recurrence: Even after successful treatment, anal fistulas can come back. It is more likely to happen if the original fistula is large or complex.
When to seek help?
Other factors may increase your danger of acquiring one of these diseases. For example, if you get an anal abscess, your risk of developing an anal fistula is about 50%. Even if your abscess heals on its own, you have an equal chance of getting a fistula.
If you have any symptoms of an anal fistula, such as pain, discharge, or bleeding from the anus, you should see a doctor. Anal fistulas can often be mistaken for other conditions, such as hemorrhoids (piles), so getting a proper diagnosis is crucial. Your doctor will likely perform a physical examination and may order tests, such as an MRI or CT scan, to confirm the diagnosis.
An anal fistula is a common but often painful and uncomfortable condition. If you have an anal fistula, you must talk to your doctor about treatment options. Surgery is typically the most effective treatment, but home remedies and medications can also help relieve symptoms.