Anal Fistulas

What is an anal fistula?

An anal fistula is an abnormal tube-like connection, which forms between the inside of the anus (anal gland) and the skin right outside the anus.

Symptoms of an anal fistula

The abscess causes intense pain and swelling around the anus that gets worse with bowel movements. Sometimes there’s discharge from an opening around the anus.

What causes an anal fistula?

An anal fistula is usually caused from a previous abscess (a swollen area where pus gathers). As the pus drains, it can leave a channel between the bowel and the skin.

How is an anal fistula diagnosed?

An anal fistula can be diagnosed with a physical exam of the area. If your doctor sees a fistula, he or she will usually try to determine the depth and direction of the fistula. In some cases, further tests may be required.

Can an anal fistula be prevented or avoided?

Almost all anal fistulas develop as a result of an abscess in the area. Sometimes abscesses are caused by Crohn’s disease, trauma, or STDs.

Anal fistula treatment

Most anal abscesses can be drained in a doctor’s office under local anesthesia. If a fistula has developed, the doctor will need to surgically remove it.

Living with an anal fistula

After the fistula has been removed, you’ll need to take antibiotics. You may want to wear a pad over your anal area until you’re healed. Sitz baths can help you feel better. Fill the tub with enough lukewarm water to cover your hips and buttocks. Don’t use soap or bubbles or any other products unless prescribed by your doctor. Relax in the sitz bath 3 to 4 times a day for about 10 minutes at a time.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • When will I be able to resume normal activities after fistula surgery?
  • Should I change my diet?
  • Should I use a stool softener while healing from fistula surgery?
  • Should I use a laxative while healing from fistula surgery?