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General Information About a Rectal Fistula

A rectal fistula is a small channel that can develop between the end of the bowel and the skin surrounding the anus. Also commonly referred to as an anal fistula, this condition is related to the small glands that are located just inside the anus. If one of these anal glands becomes blocked, an infected abscess can form, and it will often need to be surgically drained. After it is drained, the abscess can often develop into a fistula that connects the infected anal gland to an opening on the skin near the anus.

Diagnosing a rectal fistula usually only involves observing an opening in the skin near the anus that is producing a bloody or smelly drainage. However, not all fistulas result in an opening, and other rectal fistula symptoms can include:

  • Recurring anal abscesses
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Pain or swelling around the anus
  • Irritation around the anus due to constant drainage

If you have been diagnosed with a rectal fistula, surgery will usually be necessary. The most common surgical procedure used to treat this condition is a fistulotomy, in which the length of the fistula is cut open to produce an open groove that heals from the inside out. More complicated cases may need to have a special drain placed in the fistula for several weeks before corrective surgery takes place.

Tampa General Hospital, named in 2017-18 as one of the Best Hospitals in the U.S. for Gastroenterology and GI Surgery by U.S. News & World Report, provides diagnosis and treatment for individuals suffering from anal and rectal conditions such as a rectal fistula. Use Tampa General Hospital’s Physician Finder to find a gastroenterologist or call 1-800-833-3627.