Published November 14, 2023
If you’re like many of us, you’re wondering, what exactly a fistula is, how someone develops one, and what happens if this medical ailment is left untreated. Let’s find out the answers you’ve been looking for.
What Is a Fistula?
Maybe you already know everything there is to know about fistulas, but if not, we are happy to oblige.
A fistula is a tiny abnormal tunnel that runs from inside your anus to the skin outside. Just inside the anus are glands that make fluid. If they become blocked or clogged, bacteria develops and creates a swollen pocket of infected tissue and fluid. This is known as an abscess.
If the abscess is not treated, it will grow, and with time it will make its way to the outside and can cause a tiny hole in the skin near the anus so the contents of the abscess can drain. The fistula is the tunnel or passageway that connects the gland to the opening.
Typically an abscess causes the fistula, but sometimes it can occur with Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis. Rarely, it occurs with an STD or tuberculosis.
A fistula will not heal without treatment which means the pocket where the infection started must be removed.
Symptoms of a Fistula
The abscess can cause a number of symptoms, including:
- swelling, redness, and pain around the anus
- painful bowel movements
If you experience any of these signs of a fistula, contact GI Solutions as soon as possible for a diagnosis and treatment options in Chicago.
It is twice as common in men, and half of those who develop an abscess or infected anal gland will develop a fistula.
Dangers and Complications From an Untreated Fistula
It is imperative to have treatment for a fistula as soon as possible. Otherwise, there can be several unpleasant complications.
- An untreated fistula leads to a persistent infection. Even if it seems to go away, it will return with the same symptoms.
- You can develop chronic fistulas. They can extend in more directions creating new passageways and openings to the skin. These are more difficult to surgically repair. In addition, recurrent fistulas are not only painful, but can compromise your immune system.
- Delaying treatment can cause the development of more abscesses.
- An untreated fistula can lead to systemic infections which can spread to other parts of the body. This can develop into sepsis, a life-threatening infection, which needs immediate care.
- Anal incontinence and fecal leakage can occur if not treated in a timely manner.
- Anal strictures can develop with a narrowing of the anal canal causing constipation and painful bowel obstruction.
- If left untreated, the consistent pain around the anus will become even worse. It will be difficult to sit, walk, or move.
An anal fistula needs treatment and the sooner you get it, the easier it will be to do the repair.