Have you ever mistaken an anal fissure for a hemorrhoid? It's not uncommon for people to use the terms interchangeably. However, the former refers to a tear in the tissue that lines the anus, whereas the latter is swelling in the vein caused by straining during bowel movement, usually due to diarrhea or chronic constipation.
Nonetheless, anal fissures can cause significant discomfort, and ignoring early warning signs may even lengthen the healing process. Hence, here are some signs to look out for so you can seek help sooner than later.
What Are Anal Fissures?
Known to affect people of all ages, an anal fissure often occurs when the anal tissue stretches and cracks, causing the sphincter muscles of the region to spasm.
One of the most apparent causes of these fissures is passing hard, dry or large stools. However, the biggest factor contributing to its delayed healing is the blockage of blood flow in the region. Learning about the early warning signs allows you to avoid the path that inevitably leads to a chronic fissure.
Warning Signs of Anal Fissures
- Pain – One of the most common symptoms of anal fissures is a sharp ache or burning sensation around or in the anal region. However, it may worsen every time you pass a stool.
- Bleeding- Bleeding can be a strong giveaway that something in the anal region isn’t quite right.
- Itching – Oftentimes, pain and bleeding are accompanied by itching. Regardless, itching can also occur independently and can be a strong sign of an anal fissure if it remains incessant.
- Tightening – Excretion of feces may accompany a feeling of tightness or spasms in the anus. If the feeling persists, it may be a sign of anal fissures.
- Abscesses – Abscesses may appear as pus-filled swellings near the anal region and may also result in a foul-smelling discharge.
- Skin tags – Skin tags may appear on the edges of the anal region and also right under the fissure.
Additional Signs to Look Out For:
- Discomfort while urinating
- Visible tears in the anal region
It is also likely that you may start holding your stool if you feel excruciating pain when releasing it. However, this may only elevate your risk of developing constipation and, ultimately, more painful passing of dry and hard stools.
When Do Anal Fissures Become a Serious Problem?
It’s important to note that while there are numerous signs to look out for, some tend to be more serious than others. For instance, any hint of blood in the stool could be a strong sign of something serious, and in such a case, you must visit a health care practitioner right away.
Also, be mindful of the following signs related to anal fissures as they may be an indication that you need immediate medical attention from a professional.
- Heavy or minimal bleeding
- Abdominal pain
The pain resulting from an anal fissure can be severe. Hence, it is reasonable to contact a relevant practitioner for advice on both pain relief and diagnosis.
Is It Possible to Control the Symptoms at Home?
Most initial treatment courses are focused on preventing constipation and making the stool softer, so it's easier to release. Hence, eating a high-fiber diet and increasing fluid intake are often recommended. In some cases, your health care professional may also recommend using stool softening supplements, depending on the severity of the case.
Laxatives are also prescribed at times to help promote easy bowel movement, but their prolonged use is often discouraged.
Another common approach to treating anal fissure symptoms involves controlling sphincter spasms in the anal region by sitting in a warm water tub or taking Sitz baths on a regular basis.
This way, the muscles are able to relax, reducing the severity of pain you might be experiencing. In case basic treatments fail, your health care professional may prescribe an ointment to lower your sphincter spasms.
Chronic Anal Fissure: How to Go About It?
Ignoring early warning signs may result in acute cases of anal fissures becoming chronic. However, in some cases, it's also likely for the acute cases to remain unresolved even after a whole month of treatment. Hence, surgery is often the path most professionals recommend undergoing.
Lateral Internal Sphincterotomy
This procedure involves incising the thickened internal sphincter muscle to help it release the tension held by the circular muscle. Moreover, patients are treated by administering either general or spinal anesthesia based on the professional’s recommendation.
Sometimes, the surgeon may opt to cut out or excise the fissure if it's chronic. As a result, most people experience relief immediately, but they may have to follow a course of stool softeners or laxatives based on the health care professional's advice. Avoiding recurrence is the key to leading a healthy life following treatment. Hence, a high fiber diet is a must-follow.
Anal fissures can cause intense pain if left untreated. In some cases, they may even hinder your ability to perform basic tasks during the day. While preventing hard bowel movements and constipation are often the way to go about treating anal fissures, it’s also imperative you maintain a high-fiber diet to prevent the occurrence and recurrence once and for all. Drinking fluids will further ensure your bowel movements remain soft and easy to pass. Moreover, the habit also lowers your risk of developing rectal pain.
All in all, keeping an eye out for early warning signs such as pain, bleeding, itching, etc., is extremely important to ensure you are able to seek treatment in time. Prolonging or delaying treatment may result in an acute case progressing and becoming chronic. While there are numerous home remedies to help you deal with the symptoms, it’s important to determine when to seek a health care professional’s help. The earlier the problem is diagnosed, the more effectively it can be treated.