What is anal fistula, its causes, symptoms and treatments?

A small tunnel connecting an abscess to a skin opening around the skin is an anal fistula. Commonly, the anal fistula connects the infection cavity to the space around the anus. Inside the anus are present several glands take make mucus to make the excretion process easy. Now these glands sometimes become infectious leading to an abscess. This abscess then develops to become a fistula in some people. 

Anal fistula treatment is essential to save yourself from pain and severe health conditions due to the infection. There can be many treatments for anal fistula, but before diving into those, it is essential to know about the causes, symptoms and diagnosis. 

Common causes of anal fistula

Primarily, anal fistula develops due to the clogging of anal glands and anal abscesses. The clogging of glands turns into an infection which can cause serious trouble in the long run. While in most the patients, gland clogging is the primary reason, several other reasons contribute towards the development of anal fistula:

  • Crohn’s disease is a condition where the inflammation in the intestine increases. This can sometimes be one of the reasons for anal fistula.
  • Patients suffering from cancer have to take radiation therapy. Radiation therapy has the side effect of causing anal fistula in some patients.
  • An anal fistula can also be due to infections transmitted sexually.
  • Tuberculosis is another condition that can contribute to developing an anal fistula. 

Symptoms to identify anal fistula:

So you now know about the common causes that lead to development of anal fistula. You must also learn about the symptoms of anal fistula, so that you can observe your body and pay a visit to the doctor accordingly. Below are some symptoms that patients with anal fistula experience:

  • Anal abscesses are persistent in people facing the problem of anal fistula.
  • An anal fistula usually causes pain and swelling around the anus, a significant symptom.
  • In the anal fistula, the opening around the anus gathers the pus in one place. This pus usually drains in the form of blood, dirt and foul smell. If you experience less pain after the drainage, it can be a sign of an anal fistula.
  • The pus around the anus mostly drains and causes the skin to irritate. This is another symptom that will help in identifying anal fistula.
  • People suffering from anal fistulas usually experience extreme pain during bowel movements. 
  • They may also witness bleeding during the excretion process.
  • In severe cases, people having anal fistulas also suffer from fever, fatigue and chills.

Diagnosis of anal fistula:

So, if you feel that you are experiencing some of the above-mentioned symptoms, then it is time for you to pay a visit to the colorectal surgeon. Your doctor will use the following methods to diagnose anal fistulas:

  • Commonly, examination of the area around the anus is the way to diagnose anal fistula. In this, the doctor looks for an opening and tries to determine the depth of the tract and its direction. 
  • When anal fistulas are not visible to the naked eye, the doctor may suggest an anoscopy. This procedure uses a unique instrument to help them see inside the anus and rectum.
  • There may be cases where your physician will ask you for an ultrasound or an MRI to better view the fistula tract.

Anal fistula treatment:

You now know everything about anal fistula, from its causes, symptoms and diagnosis. Now, if you are suffering from an anal fistula, it is essential for you to begin with its treatment at the earliest. 

Anal fistula treatment mostly takes place in a surgical procedure. Depending on the severity of the anal fistula, your colorectal surgeon will decide which surgical treatment to suggest. Commonly, fistulotomy, advancement flap procedure and lift procedure are the surgical methods to cure an anal fistula. Each surgical procedure treats a particular severity level. 

So, these surgical procedures take place on an outpatient basis, which makes it convenient for the patient. You will visit your doctor’s office on your appointment day and undergo the surgery. After keeping you under observation for a few hours, your doctor will brief you about the dos and don’ts after the surgery. You are then free to leave for your home on the same day. The recovery process will take some seven to ten days after the surgery. 


Conditions like haemorrhoids, anal fistula, anal warts, etc, all require proper medical care at the beginning itself. These are conditions that are reversible by bringing a change in diet and activity level. However, for those who are already suffering from this, it becomes necessary to visit the doctor.

With some care, proper medication and regular consultation, one can quickly treat anal fistulas. Just ensure that you gather the proper knowledge from your doctor and are keeping an eye on your bowel movements. What may seem like a minor inconvenience can then turn into significant conditions like anal fistulas? These are obviously painful to deal with and once grown will take a number of days to heal completely.

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