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What is an anal fistula?

We all know that one of the first symptoms of hemorrhoids is rectal pain or discomfort. But how do you know if the pain you’re feeling back there isn’t the result of something else? At CRH, we’re dedicated to providing gastroenterology information to help you make the most informed decision possible when choosing a hemorrhoid treatment. But we also want you to be informed about other common GI issues, so you can find relief from whatever condition is causing you discomfort. The following is some helpful information about anal fistulas.

What causes anal fistulas?

Anal fistulas are typically caused by an anal abscess – an infection that can occur if fluid is blocked in the anal gland duct. If the infection doesn’t heal properly, an anal fistula can form within or around the outer part of the rectum. Anal fistulas are often a result of conditions such as Crohn’s Disease or irritable bowel syndrome, but can also occur as a result of recent surgery around the rectal area.

What are the symptoms?

Possible symptoms of anal fistula include:

  • A constant, throbbing pain that is made worse by sitting down
  • Tenderness or swelling around the anus
  • Painful bowel movements or constipation
  • Blood or pus discharge
  • Fever

How is an anal fistula diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose anal fistulas by examining the area and looking for infected openings around the anus. Sometimes, a fistula probe or anoscope will be inserted into the rectum so the doctor can properly observe the anal canal. If multiple fistulas are found, the doctor may order an X-ray, or perhaps even an MRI, to check for signs of colon cancer. A sigmoidoscopy, which is a less invasive type of colonoscopy, may also be performed so that the doctor can properly diagnose the problem and prescribe an appropriate treatment.

Anal Fistulas are completely treatable, so if you are experiencing symptoms, it’s important to talk to your doctor as soon as possible. And remember, the main cause of a fistula is an anal abscess, which can be a complication of hemorrhoid surgery.