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What Is an Anal Fistula?

The inside of the anus is lined with small glands. These glands can be infected when the mucus they secrete gets blocked. This leads to an abscess. Unfortunately, if the abscess isn’t treated it can often form a fistula. A fistula is a tunnel that connects the skin around the anus with an infected gland inside the rectum. If you are dealing with pain and swelling around the anus, a fistula could be to blame. Since anal pain and swelling can be caused by a variety of things, ranging from benign to more serious, it’s a good idea to see a gastroenterologist for an evaluation.


What are the signs and symptoms of a fistula?

The most common symptoms are pain, swelling, and redness around the anus. Of course, everything from a tear in the tissue to hemorrhoids can also cause similar symptoms, so it’s not always easy to spot the difference. This is why you should always consult a gastroenterologist for a proper diagnosis.


If you have a fistula, you may also notice these symptoms,

  • Pain with bowel movements (and sometimes urination)
  • Bleeding
  • Fever
  • Liquid draining from the anus

If you are experiencing these symptoms, it’s time to see your gastroenterologist.


How is an anal fissure diagnosed?

Some anal fissures can be spotted through a simple rectal exam; however, this isn’t always the case. If so, your gastroenterologist may recommend imaging tests such as a CT scan or a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is a diagnostic procedure that allows your doctor to examine the lining of the rectum and colon to spot bleeds, ulcers, and other problems.


How are fistulas treated?

The only way to treat a fistula is with surgery, which is typically performed in your gastroenterologist’s office. Several surgical strategies can be used, depending on whether you have a simple or more complicated fistula. Simple fistulas can be removed through excision, while complicated fistulas may require a tube to drain the fluid for several weeks. This is something that your doctor will talk with you about once you’ve come in for an evaluation.


Whether you are experiencing symptoms of a fistula or you are noticing changes in bowel habits that have you concerned, a gastroenterologist is an ideal doctor to turn to for answers. Call your gastroenterologist today to discuss your symptoms and find out if you should come into the office for care.

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