Anal Abscess & Fistula

When bacteria or other matter clogs a gland in the anus, it can cause an infection. If the infected gland fills with pus, an anal abscess is formed.

An anal fistula occurs in about half of all patients with an anal abscess. It is a tunnel that links an opening in the skin to the anal abscess or other infected glands. It can occur with or without an abscess present. People with Crohn’s disease are more likely to have a fistula and abscess.

Symptoms include:

  • Redness and swelling around the anus (for both conditions)
  • Fever and chills (with an abscess)
  • Drainage (from a fistula)

Occasionally, an abscess drains on its own, but both conditions usually require some sort of medical treatment for relief.


Surgery is typically used to treat both conditions.

The infection in an abscess is drained through an incision in the skin surrounding the anus. In most cases, this can be performed using local anesthesia in a doctor’s office. People prone to infection may require hospitalization for the procedure.

Surgery for an anal fistula is called a fistulotomy. During the procedure, a surgeon will connect the two openings of the tube, which then heals from the inside out. A small number of patients may experience difficulty controlling bowel movements after the procedure. Other options include placing material inside the fistula or closing the tube by altering surrounding tissue. Most fistulotomies are performed on an outpatient basis.


To find out more about anal fistulas and abscesses, visit the American Society of Colon & Rectal Surgeons.

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To make an appointment, or to speak with someone on our staff, please call 919-784-4160.

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