Perianal abscesses can occur when the tiny anal glands that open on the inside of the anus become blocked, and the bacteria always present in these glands cause an infection. When pus develops, an abscess forms.
An anal abscess is an infected cavity filled with pus found near the anus or rectum. Ninety percent of abscesses are the result of an acute infection in the internal glands of the anus. Occasionally, bacteria, fecal material or foreign matter can clog an anal gland and tunnel into the tissue around the anus or rectum, where it may then collect in a cavity called an abscess.
Anal abscesses are classified by their location in relation to the structures comprising and surrounding the anus and rectum: perianal, ischioanal, intersphincteric and supralevator. The perianal area is the most frequent and the supralevator the least. If any of these particular types of abscess spreads partially circumferentially around the anus or the rectum, it is termed a horseshoe abscess.
Fistulas are classified by their relationship to parts of the anal sphincter complex (the muscles that allow us to control our stool). They are classified as intersphincteric, transsphincteric, suprasphincteric and extrasphincteric. The intersphincteric is the most common and the extrasphincteric is the least common. These classifications are important in helping the surgeon make treatment decisions.
An anal fistula (also commonly called fistula-in-ano) is frequently the result of a previous or current anal abscess. This occurs in up to 50% of patients with abscesses. Normal anatomy includes small glands just inside the anus. The fistula is the tunnel that forms under the skin and connects the clogged infected glands to an abscess. A fistula can be present with or without an abscess and may connect just to the skin of the buttocks near the anal opening.
Anorectal pain, swelling, perianal cellulitis (redness of the skin) and fever are the most common symptoms of an abscess. Occasionally, rectal bleeding or urinary symptoms, such as trouble initiating a urinary stream or painful urination, may be present.
Patients with fistulas commonly have history of a previously drained anal abscess. Anorectal pain, drainage from the perianal skin, irritation of the perianal skin, and sometimes rectal bleeding, can be presenting symptoms of a fistula-in-ano.
The treatment of an abscess is surgical drainage under most circumstances. An incision is made in the skin near the anus to drain the infection. This can be done in a doctor’s office with local anesthetic or in an operating room under anesthesia.
Up to 50% of the time after an abscess has been drained, a tunnel (fistula) may persist, connecting the infected anal gland to the external skin. This typically will involve some type of drainage from the external opening. If the opening on the skin heals when a fistula is present, a recurrent abscess may develop. Until the fistula is eliminated, many patients will have recurring cycles of pain, swelling and drainage, with intervening periods of apparent healing.
Antibiotics alone are a poor alternative to drainage of the infection. The routine addition of antibiotics to surgical drainage does not improve healing time or reduce the potential for recurrences in uncomplicated abscesses.
Currently, there is no non-surgical treatment available for this problem and surgery is almost always necessary to cure an anal fistula. If the fistula is straightforward (involving minimal sphincter muscle), a fistulotomy may be performed. This procedure involves unroofing the tract, thereby connecting the internal opening within the anal canal to the external opening and creating a groove that will heal from the inside out. Most of the operations can be performed on an outpatient basis.
In addition to fistulotomy, there are several other surgical treatment options for anal fistula which do not involve division of the sphincter muscles. Fibrin glue injection is one such option, in which fibrin glue is injected into the fistula tract to obliterate the tract with the intention of becoming incorporated in the surrounding tissue.
An anal fistula plug is an elongated piece of material that is placed throughout the length of the fistula tract to fill the tract space and incorporate itself into the tissue around it.
An endoanal advancement flap is a procedure usually reserved for complex fistulas or for patients with an increased potential risk for suffering incontinence from a traditional fistulotomy. In this procedure, the internal opening of the fistula is covered over by healthy, native tissue in an attempt to close the point of origin of the fistula.
Yet another non-sphincter dividing treatment for anal fistula is the LIFT (ligation of the intersphincteric fistula tract) procedure. This procedure involves division of the fistula tract in the space between the internal and external sphincter muscles.
IMPORTANT HEALTH NOTE
We recommend that people experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms do not attempt self-treatment. With many medications being available over the counter, and numerous do-it-yourself online unqualified remedy recommendation, it is natural to consider treating yourself but we highly recommend against this.
If you are experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms you may have a more significant issue than you would expect from the sometimes muted or infrequent symptom you may be experiencing. It is important to keep in mind that is you are having gastrointestinal symptoms or concerns it is best see a doctor to have those symptoms diagnosed and any conditions treated. Also, it is worth noting, that if health conditions do exist, the earlier they are diagnosed and treated, the greater the probability will be to successfully eliminate or manage a present condition, in fact successful outcomes will increase significantly with early detection.
If you have gastrointestinal concerns or are experiencing any gastrointestinal symptoms, please contact us promptly to schedule a consultation with a physician.
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