A rectal fistula is a small, infected passageway that can develop between the end of the bowel (anal canal) and the skin surrounding the anus. This condition is also referred to as an anal fistula.
Rectal Fistula Causes
If one of the small glands that are located just inside the anus becomes blocked, an infected abscess can form. This abscess will likely need to be surgically drained. But once it is drained, the abscess can develop into a fistula that connects the infected anal gland to an opening on the skin near the anus.
A rectal fistula can occur in anyone, although you may be at an increased risk for this condition if you have:
- Chronic diarrhea
- Crohn’s disease
- Received radiation therapy for rectal cancer
- Sustained an injury to the anal canal
Rectal Fistula Symptoms
A telltale sign of a rectal fistula is an opening in the skin near the anus that produces a bloody, pus-like or foul-smelling drainage. However, not all fistulas result in an opening.
In addition to uncomfortable drainage, other rectal fistula symptoms include:
- Recurring anal abscesses
- Painful bowel movements
- Pain or swelling around the anus
- Irritation around the anus due to constant drainage
- Fever and chills
- Fatigue and general malaise
Rectal Fistula Diagnosis
Diagnosing a rectal fistula is relatively straightforward. A physician will look for physical signs of a fistula and may press around the affected area. In some cases, anesthesia may be given so a more in-depth exam can be performed without causing discomfort.
Rectal Fistula Treatments
If you have been diagnosed with a rectal fistula, surgery may be necessary to treat the condition and relieve symptoms. The most common surgical approach is known as a fistulotomy, a procedure in which the length of the fistula is cut open to produce an open groove that heals from the inside out. If your case is more complex, it may be recommended to have a special drain placed in the fistula for several weeks before corrective surgery takes place.
The surgeons, gastroenterologists and other world-class experts at Tampa General Hospital’s Gastroenterology Institute can diagnose and treat anal and rectal conditions such as rectal fistulas.