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What is an anal fissure?

An anal fissure is a crack, tear or cut in the lining of the anus (back passage). A fissure may be acute or chronic, depending on how long it has been present. Sometimes, the skin at the bottom of the fissure may become swollen which may give the mistaken impression that the pain and bleeding are due to piles or haemorrhoids.


Why do anal fissures occur?

Fissures can occur at any age, but most commonly occur in young children and adults. Many fissures occur for no particular reason. However, direct trauma to the area may be a factor in many cases. Anything that can cut or irritate the inner lining of the anus can cause a fissure. Most commonly constipation leading to a hard, dry bowel movement may cause a fissure. Diagram of anal canal with anal fissure and a sentinal pile (sentinal skin tag)


Other causes of a fissure include diarrhoea or inflammatory conditions of the anal area. Fissures may also develop after delivery of a baby (post partum). Anal fissures may be acute (recent onset) or chronic (present for a long time or recurring frequently). Chronic fissures often have a small external lump associated with the tear called a sentinel pile or skin tag. This is commonly mistaken for standard piles or haemorrhoids

 

What are the symptoms of an anal fissure?

The symptoms of a fissure are pain, especially when passing a bowel motion, and some bleeding. Occasionally, people experience discharge of an abscess in association with a fissure. Fissures are quite common, but are often confused with other causes of pain and bleeding, such as piles or haemorrhoids. Patients may try to avoid defecation because of the pain.

Diagram of rectum and anus with closeup of anal canal with acute anal fissure

How is an anal fissure treated?

Often treating the constipation or diarrhoea can cure a fissure. An acute fissure is usually man­aged with dietary changes and local creams (non-operative treatments) which heals more than 90% of acute fissures. At least 50% of fissures heal either by themselves or with simple measures. A high fibre diet, bulking agents (fibre supplements), stool soften­ers, and plenty of fluids help relieve constipation, promote soft bowel movements, and aide in the healing process. Increased dietary fibre may also help to improve diarrhoea. Warm baths for 10-20 minutes several times each day are soothing and promote relaxation of the anal muscles, which can also help healing. Occasionally, special medications may be recommended. A chronic fissure may require additional treatment.


A number of specific creams have come on the market over the last few years. These have been designed to reduce the spasm within the anal sphincter and can heal up to 80% of fissures. Some fissures, if they do not respond to these methods, may require an operation. The most commonly used ointments are

 

How successful is non-operative treatment for anal fissure?

Fissures can recur easily, and it is quite common for a healed fissure to recur after a hard bowel movement. Even after the pain and bleeding has disappeared one should continue to aim for good bowel habits and adhere to a high fibre diet or fibre supplement regimen. If the problem returns without an obvious cause, further assessment may be needed.


What can be done if a fissure doesn’t heal?

A fissure that fails to respond to treatment should be re-examined. Persistent hard or loose bowel movements, scarring, or spasm of the internal anal sphincter muscle all contribute to delayed healing. Other medical problems such as inflammatory bowel disease, infections, or anal growths (skin tumours) can cause fissure like symptoms and patients suffering from persistent anal pain should be examined to exclude these conditions.

  

What types of operation are performed for anal fissure?Botox injection for Chronic Anal Fissure

An operation may be necessary in order to get a more detailed look at the fissure and possible take a biopsy. This is called an Examination under Anaesthesia (EUA). Your colorectal surgeon may also recommend additional measures including injection of the anal sphincter with Botox. This relaxes the anal sphincter muscle and may heal up to 85% of fissures. The effect is transient (8-12 weeks) and of course, the patient may get a recurrent fissure once the drug has worn off. It is therefore important to keep the stools soft and avoid constipation, even after a fissure has healed.


Persistent fissures may require a lateral internal anal sphincterotomy. This is a highly effective treatment for a fissure and recurrence rates after this type of surgery are low. Surgery usually consists of a small operation to cut a portion of the internal anal sphincter muscle (a lateral internal sphincterotomy). This is a fairly minor operation and most cases can be performed as a day case without the need to stay overnight. This sphincterotomy operation helps the fissure heal by decreasing pain and spasm which improves the blood supply to the skin.


A small percentage of patients who undergo a sphincterotomy may find impaired control of the bowel motions after operation (minor faecal incontinence). Surgery is not therefore usually performed without first trying non-operative measures. Your colorectal specialist may also wish to perform specialised ultrasound scan and pressure test  on the muscles of the anus (back passage) first before considering sphincterotomy. These are performed in order to be certain that the muscles are functioning normally prior to considering a sphincterotomy.


Other operations, less frequently performed, include anal stretch or anoplasty. If a sentinel pile is present, it too may be removed to promote healing of the fissure. This may be combined with either injection with Botox or sphincterotomy.


What are the complications of surgery for anal fissure?

A small number of patients who undergo injection of the anus with Botox may experience transient weakness in the sphincter muscle and some incontinence of stool.


As discussed above, sphincterotomy also infrequently may interfere with one’s ability to control bowel movements. Patients who have had previous anorectal surgery or women who have sustained a preceding injury to the anal sphincter during childbirth may be at increased risk of these problems.


Surgery is generally very safe. However, all surgical treatments do have other risks, and your colorectal specialist will address these with you.

 

How long does the healing process take after surgery for anal fissure?

Complete healing occurs in a few weeks, although pain often disappears after a few days

  

Can fissures lead to colon cancer?

No! Persistent symptoms, however, need careful evaluation since conditions other than fissure can cause similar symptoms. Your doctor may request additional testing even if your fissure has successfully healed. A colonoscopy may be required to exclude other causes of bleeding.


Can I be treated for anal fissure at the Glasgow Colorectal Centre?

Yes. Glasgow Colorectal Centre surgeons’ Richard Molloy and Graham MacKay are happy to assess patients with an anal fissure and will advise on investigation and management, be it medical treatment or surgery including injection of the fissure with Botox.

Anal Fissure

Causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

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If you have any questions about anal fissure or other colorectal issues, your own GP is often the best first port of call.

If appropriate, they will be able to arrange a referral to a colorectal specialist centre such as the Glasgow Colorectal Centre.


Download a fact sheet on Anal Fissure here


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An anal fissure is a small tear, cut or crack in the skin that lines the anus (back passage). Although anal fissures may occur at any age, most commonly they occur in children and young adults. Anal fissures can give rise to severe pain and rectal bleeding or blood in stools when passing a bowel motion.

Treatment aims to avoid constipation by increasing fibre and using laxatives to soften the stool. Special creams such as Rectogesic (GTN ointment) and Anoheal (diltiazem) can relieve pain and spasm and can speed healing. Most fissures settle with medical treatment but occasionally, an operation may be necessary. Injection of the anus with Botox can help relieve spasm and induce healing. Occasionally, a sphincterotomy operation (small cut in the anal sphincter muscle) is required to heal a chronic fissure.

Rectogesic ointment for anal fissure


Download a fact sheet on GTN ointment for anal fissure here


Download a fact sheet on Anoheal (diltiazem 2%) cream for anal fissure here