Most anal fistulas happen due to an infection in an anal gland that’s either untreated, improperly treated, or unresponsive to treatment. Without prompt medical attention, a fistula can lead to more serious complications, including widespread infection.
At our practice in Deerfield Beach, Florida, Michael H. Tarlowe, MD, offers advanced treatments for anal fistulas, with options tailored to each patient’s unique anatomy, medical history, and risk factors. Here’s how he can help you.
Quick facts about anal fistulas
A anal fistula is a tunnel or narrow canal that forms under the skin, typically after an abscess forms in an anal gland. As fluids and bacteria leak from the abscess, a drainage tunnel forms to carry them away. Once that tunnel reaches the anus, it breaks open, connecting the anus to the infected anal gland.
Not every anal gland abscess leads to a fistula, but data indicate about half of them do.
Abscesses tend to be more common among people with:
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Chronic diarrhea
They can also form following radiation therapy to the anal area.
Anal pain is the most common symptom associated with an anal fistula. It may also cause swelling, extreme tenderness, bleeding, and painful bowel movements. You might notice pus drainage from or near your anus, as well. Serious infections can involve fever and chills.
Treating anal fistulas
Unlike an anal fissure (a tiny cut that forms near your anus), a fistula will not heal on its own. It requires a proactive approach to help the fistula heal and prevent further infections or other complications. Dr. Tarlowe offers several fistula treatment options, based on your needs.
During a fistulotomy, Dr. Tarlowe opens the fistula canal, supporting natural healing of the area. One of the most common treatments for fistulas, a fistulotomy is performed on an outpatient basis using sedation. This approach is appropriate for simple fistulas located farther away from the anus in order to avoid fecal incontinence and other complications.
A seton is a special kind of surgical stitch or suture that’s used to help hold the fistula open, allowing it to drain and heal on its own. A seton avoids the need to cut through the sphincter muscle, making it a good potential option for a fistula located near the anus. It’s also used as a first-line treatment for fistulas in some people with Crohn’s disease to prevent abscess formation and sepsis.
Ligation of the intersphincteric fistula tract (LIFT)
The LIFT technique typically is reserved for fistulas that are very close to the anal sphincter or fistulas that pass through the sphincter muscle. In this procedure, Dr. Tarlowe makes an incision in the skin over the fistula, separating the sphincter muscle tissue to expose the fistula tunnel, then closing off both ends of the tunnel. The fistula is left open to heal.
Prompt care is critical
Anal fistulas can cause serious complications if they’re not treated promptly. If you suspect you have an anal fistula, don’t delay seeking care. Call 954-210-7127 or book an appointment online with Dr. Tarlowe today.