Anal abscesses are a very unpleasant and unfortunate health condition that can easily be confused with hemorrhoids. In essence, an anorectal abscess is a collection of pus in the area of the anus or the rectum. Perirectal abscesses occur deeper in the rectal canal, at approximately the same area as internal hemorrhoids. Perianal abscesses happen in the soft tissues surrounding the sphincter, often in the same area as external hemorrhoids. The confusion occurs due to location and some similar symptoms. Both are characterized by painful lumps in that particularly sensitive area, often in conjunction with similar overall health issues such as constipation or gastrointestinal disorders. Though these lumps can look remarkably similar, anal abscesses represent a much more severe health problem.
Fortunately, anal abscesses do have some distinguishing symptoms that can help tell the difference. While both hemorrhoids and anal abscesses will often feature a swollen, tender lump near the anal opening, anal abscesses will usually be much more painful. In addition, anorectal abscesses often feature pain-related constipation, discharge of pus, lower abdominal pain, extreme pain associated with bowel movements, pain when rolling over or changing position, and constant fatigue. High-risk symptoms of anorectal abscesses include high fever, night sweats, shaking chills, persistent vomiting and complete inability to have bowel movements. These particular symptoms can mean that the abscess has burst into the interior of the body, leading to systemic infection. If you should experience any of these high-risk symptoms, it means you need to head to an emergency room immediately.
Anal abscesses are caused by a variety of problems. In most cases, one of the glands near the anal opening gets blocked by foreign material. When blocked, it starts to fill up with pus, which is nothing more than dead bacteria and immune cells. Anal abscesses can also come from infected anal fissures, intestinal disorders such as Crohn’s disease and diverculitis and even infected hemorrhoids. Indirect causes also include diabetes, AIDS/HIV infection or a continual regimen of immune suppressant medication, such as for leukemia.
Anal abscesses must always be treated by a doctor. Blood tests, urine tests, MRI scans and physical inspection may all be necessary to diagnose the precise type of abscess you’ve got. Even if the abscess does burst by itself, unless it is properly treated it will usually come right back again. A surgeon will open the abscess, drain it and often pack it with antibacterial material for a few days. It will be left open to heal instead of being stitched shut. If it were sealed up, it would refill again and you’d be right back where you started.
Prompt treatment of anal abscesses leads to prompt recovery. They may be treated on an inpatient or an outpatient basis, depending on what your particular health condition dictates, but the basic procedure is the same for both. You will probably be on antibiotics, pain medication and stool softeners to keep infection down and make you as comfortable as possible. Good hygiene, including careful wiping with moisturized pads and frequent sitz baths in plain water are also highly recommended for quick and full recovery. If you don’t address the problem promptly, unnecessary complications including trauma, pain, systemic infection and permanent damage may ensue. Anal abscesses are one of the reasons you have to see your doctor if you think you’re suffering from hemorrhoids for the first time. A mistake could have lifelong consequences.