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What Causes a Rectal Fistula?

If you want to understand what causes a rectal fistula, it’s important to first learn about what a fistula is. Also called an anal fistula, a rectal fistula is a narrow cavity or channel stretching between the bowel and the skin near the anus. This often results in a painful external opening in the skin.

One of the most common causes of an anal fistula is an abscess which has developed because of an infection in an anal gland. When an anal gland becomes clogged with bacteria, fecal matter or foreign matter, it can fill with pus and a fistula can form. If an anal abscess is not treated promptly or doesn’t heal completely, a fistula will often remain after the abscess has been drained.

Other less common causes of a rectal fistula can include:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • Diverticulitis
  • Trauma to the rectal area
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Tuberculosis
  • Intestinal diseases such as Crohn’s disease and diverticulitis
  • Anorectal cancer
  • HIV
  • Tumors

How Do You Treat a Rectal Fistula?

In most cases, rectal fistulas do not heal on their own or through treatment with medications. Surgery is almost always necessary.

One of the most successful surgical procedures used to treat a rectal fistula is a fistulotomy, in which the entire length of the fistula is cut open to allow for healing and the formation of a flat scar.

Choose Tampa General Hospital

At Tampa General Hospital’s Endoscopy Center, our physicians and surgeons can help you determine the causes of and diagnose a rectal fistula, or any other anorectal condition. Our team includes surgeons, gastroenterologists, physicians, nurses and other medical specialists, so we’re uniquely equipped to provide comprehensive care, whatever your condition. We’ll design a full treatment plan for the rectal fistula that’s tailored to your needs and level of health.

Tampa General Hospital is recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the nation's best hospitals and highest ranked in Florida for Gastroenterology & GI Surgery.

 If you would like to find a gastroenterologist, use Tampa General Hospital’s Physician Finder or call 1-800-833-3627.