What is a fistula and what causes it?

anal fistula

Table of Contents

What causes anal fistula?

What are the symptoms of anal fistula?

How serious is a fistula?
Can a fistula heal on its own?
What does an anal fistula look like?

What Is an Anal Fistula?

An anal fistula is a tunnel that runs from inside the anus the hole your body uses to get rid of solid waste to somewhere in the skin around it. It usually follows an infection that didn’t heal the right way. Your doctor can repair the fistula, but you’ll need surgery for that.

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What causes anal fistula?

Just inside your anus are several glands that make fluid. Sometimes, they get blocked or clogged. When that happens, a bacteria buildup can create a swollen pocket of infected tissue and liquid. Doctors call this an abscess.

If you don’t treat the abscess, it’ll grow. Eventually, it’ll make its way to the outside and punch a hole in the skin somewhere near your anus so the gunk inside it can drain. The fistula is the tunnel that connects the gland to that opening.

Most of the time, an abscess causes a fistula. It’s rare, but they can also come from conditions like tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases, or an ongoing illness that affects your bowels.

What are the symptoms of anal fistula?

The most common ones are:

  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Swelling around your anus

You might also notice:

  • Bleeding
  • Painful bowel movements or urination
  • Fever
  • A foul-smelling liquid oozing from a hole near your anus

If you have any of these symptoms, call a doctor.

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How is it diagnosed?

If the doctor thinks you have an anal fistula, she’ll ask about your medical history and give you a physical exam.

Some fistulas are easy to spot. Others aren’t. Sometimes they close on their own, then open back up. Your doctor will look for signs of oozing fluid or bleeding. She might stick a finger into your anus during the exam.

She’ll probably send you to a specialist in colon and rectal problems for more exams or imaging tests like X-rays or a CT scan. You might even need a colonoscopy. For this test, the doctor will put a tube with a camera on the end into your anus to look at the inside of your bowels. You’ll be asleep when this happens.

How serious is a fistula?

Fistulas can cause a lot of discomfort, and if left untreated, may cause serious complications. Some fistulas can cause a bacteria infection, which may result in sepsis, a dangerous condition that can lead to low blood pressure, organ damage or even death.

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Can a fistula heal on its own?

Fistula tracts must be treated because they will not heal on their own. There is a risk of developing cancer in the fistula tract if left untreated for a long period of time. Most fistulas are simple to treat. Either the tract or fistula can be opened or the tract and the pocket inside are completely removed.

What does an anal fistula look like?

An anorectal or anal fistula is an abnormal, infected, tunnel-like passageway that forms from an infected anal gland. Sometimes an anal fistula works its way from an internal gland to the outside of the skin surrounding the anus. On the skin, this looks like an open boil.

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