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Anal Discomfort

  • Rectum and Anus

Definition

The anus is the lowest part of the digestive tract, the opening from which stool is passed out of the body. Anal discomfort includes pain, itching, or burning.

What is going on in the body?

Discomfort in the anal area can take many forms, including pain, itching, or burning. It is rarely life threatening, but it can be quite annoying. There are several possible causes.

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

Causes of anal discomfort include:
  • anal fissure, which is a small erosion or wearing away of the lining on the inside of the anus
  • anal fistula, which is an abnormal connection between two areas of the body
  • cancer or a tumor involving the anus, such as anal cancer
  • hemorrhoids, which are enlarged veins in the anal area
  • infections, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as gonorrhea, herpes, and chlamydia
  • inflammatory bowel disease, any of several related conditions that involve inflammation of the bowel, often for unknown reasons
  • irritation of the anal skin or lining, which can be caused by excessive washing or an allergic reaction
  • pruritis ani, which is a general term for itchiness of the anus that often has no known cause
  • tenesmus, which is an urgent desire to move the bowels
  • trauma, which may be caused by anal sex or by putting foreign objects into the anus
Other causes are also possible. Sometimes, no cause can be found.

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the condition?

Prevention is related to the cause. For example, safer sex practices such as the use of condoms can reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of STIs. Avoiding anal sex can prevent cases from trauma due to this cause. Many cases cannot be prevented.

Diagnosed

How is the condition diagnosed?

Sometimes the diagnosis is obvious from a careful history and physical exam, made simpler if the person trusts the healthcare professional and does not hide important items of history. In other cases, further tests will be needed. If an STI is suspected, a culture may be done to determine the exact cause of an infection. A culture is a test in which bacteria or other organisms are grown in the lab from a sample of tissue.
Tissue is collected by using special cotton swabs to wipe the area around and inside the anus. If inflammatory bowel disease is suspected, anoscopy or sigmoidoscopy may be advised. These are special procedures that allow a healthcare professional to view the inside of the intestine by putting a small instrument into the anus that contains a light and a camera.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

Most long-term effects are related to the cause. Anal discomfort from diarrhea usually goes away without treatment and has no long-term effects. Inflammatory bowel disease can cause serious problems throughout the body. These may include damage to the intestines, joint pain, and visual impairments. Anal cancer can sometimes cause death.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

Anal discomfort is not contagious. However, if an infection is the cause, the infection might be contagious.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the condition?

Treatment is directed at the cause. Excessive washing of the anus with soap is discouraged and often makes the pain worse. Most STIs can be treated with antibiotics. Inflammatory bowel disease is often treated with medicines such as prednisone (i.e., Sterapred) to reduce inflammation. Medicine or hemorrhoid surgery may be used for hemorrhoids. People with anal cancer may need surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Side effects depend on the treatments. For example, antibiotics may cause allergic reactions or stomach upset. Surgery can be complicated by bleeding, infection, or reactions to anesthesia.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the condition?

Outcomes after treatment are related to the cause. A person with diarrhea from an infection often feels better once the infection clears up. A person with inflammatory bowel disease often has repeated flare-ups of the disease. A person with anal cancer may die if treatment fails.

Monitor

How is the condition monitored?

Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare professional.

Sources

Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 1998, Fauci et al.

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