An anal fistula is an infected tunnel that forms between a gland in your anus and your external skin. The anus is at the end of your digestive tract, where solid waste exits your body.
Several glands that create mucus are located inside your anus. Healthy glands drain to the anus, but sometimes, a gland may get clogged or blocked.
If a gland gets blocked, an infection can develop, forming a cavity called an abscess. Anal fistulas typically develop when these abscesses go untreated for too long. About 50% of people with abscesses will develop an anal fistula.
Abscesses and some anal fistulas are painful, and infection can pose serious health risks. But treatment can be effective in relieving pain and preventing complications.
Michael H. Tarlowe, MD specializes in anal fistula care. He has been named a Castle Connolly Top Doctor for 5 years running (2018-2022) and is double board-certified in general surgery and colon and rectal surgery.
Symptoms of an anal fistula
Anal fistula symptoms may vary depending on the severity of your condition. Some of the most common signs of anal fistulas often include:
- Pain, with or without a bowel movement
- Skin irritation
- Drainage, with blood or pus
Your risk of getting an anal fistula increases if you have a history of anal abscesses. A previous abscess, even if it was drained, could reappear and form a fistula.
Many people with anal fistulas notice consistent anal discomfort and pain. However, the pain caused by an anal fistula may disappear if the abscess drains spontaneously.
Most of the time, the abscess appears as a visible lump in the skin around your anus. When diagnosing anal fistulas, Dr. Tarlowe looks for a visible external opening that drains fluid, like blood or pus.
Treatment options for anal fistulas
Abscesses, infection, and anal fistulas won’t go away on their own. If Dr. Tarlowe identifies an anal fistula, you’ll need surgery to fix the problem and preserve your health.
Anal fistula surgery involves eliminating the infection and avoiding the sphincter muscles whenever possible. The sphincter is a ring of muscles that close the anus, and disturbing them during anal fistula surgery could lead to fecal incontinence.
During your procedure, Dr. Tarlowe drains the abscess to remove the infection. There are several different types of anal fistula surgery, and she chooses the best method for your situation.
One of the most successful surgical techniques is ligation of the intersphincteric fistula tract (LIFT). In the LIFT procedure, Dr. Tarlowe accesses the fistula and drains the abscess without cutting the sphincter muscles.
Depending on your health, Dr. Tarlowe may prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection after your anal fistula surgery. Our team continues to monitor your health after surgery, to help prevent the recurrence of both abscesses and anal fistulas.
If you think you might have an anal fistula or abscess, trust your care to Dr. Tarlowe and his team. Contact us online or over the phone to schedule an appointment.