Anal fistula - Treatment (2024)

Surgery is often needed to treat anal fistulasas they do not usually heal by themselves.

There are several different procedures. The best option for youwill depend on the position of your fistula and whether it's a single channel or branches off in different directions.

Sometimes you may need to have an initial examination of the area undergeneral anaesthetic(where you're asleep) to help determine the best treatment.

The surgeon will talk to you about the options available and which onethey feel is the most suitable for you.

Surgery for ananal fistula is usuallycarried out undergeneral anaesthetic. In many cases, it's not necessary to stay in hospital overnight afterwards.

The aim of surgery is toheal the fistula and avoid damaging the sphincter muscles (the ring of muscles that open and close the anus). Damaging the sphincter muscles could potentially result in loss of bowel control (bowel incontinence).

The main surgical options are outlined here.


The most common type of surgery for anal fistulas is a fistulotomy. This involves cuttingalong the whole length of the fistula to open it up, so it heals as a flat scar.

A fistulotomy is the most effective treatment for manyanal fistulas. But it's usually only suitable for fistulas that do not pass through much of the sphincter muscles. This is because the risk of incontinence is lowestin these cases.

If the surgeon has tocut a small portion of anal sphincter muscle during the procedure, they'll make every attempt to reduce therisk of incontinence.

In cases where the risk of incontinence is considered too high, another procedure may be recommended instead.

Seton techniques

Ifyour fistula passes through a significant portion ofanal sphincter muscle, the surgeon mayinitially recommend inserting a seton.

A seton is a piece of surgical thread that's left in the fistula for several weeksto keepit open.

This allows it to drainand helps itheal, while avoiding theneed to cut the sphincter muscles.

Loose setons allow fistulas to drain, but do not cure them. To cure a fistula, tighter setons may be used to cut through the fistula slowly.

This may require several procedures that the surgeon can discuss with you.

Or they may suggest carrying out several fistulotomy procedures, carefully opening up a small section of the fistula each time, or a different treatment.

Advancement flap procedure

An advancement flap procedure may be considered if your fistula passes through the anal sphincter muscles and having a fistulotomy carries a high risk of causing incontinence.

This involvescutting or scraping out the fistula and covering the hole where it entered the bowel with a flap of tissue taken from inside the rectum, which is the final part of the bowel.

This has a lower success rate than a fistulotomy, but avoids the need to cut the anal sphincter muscles.

LIFT procedure

Theligation of the intersphincteric fistula tract (LIFT) procedure is a treatment for fistulas that pass through the anal sphincter muscles, where a fistulotomy would be too risky.

During the treatment, a cut is made in the skin above the fistula and the sphincter muscles are moved apart. The fistula is then sealed at both ends and cut open so it lies flat.

This procedure has had some promising results so far, but it's only been around for a few years, so more research is needed to determine how well it works in the short and long term.

Endoscopic ablation

Endoscopic ablation is where an endoscope (a long, thin tube with a small camera on the end) is put in the fistula.

An electrode is then passed through the endoscope and used to seal the fistula.

Endoscopic ablation works well and there are no serious concerns about its safety.

Laser surgery

Radially emitting laser fibre treatment involves using a small laser beam to seal the fistula.

There are uncertainties around how well it works, but there are no major safety concerns.

Fibrin glue

Treatment with fibrin glue is currently the only non-surgical option for anal fistulas.

Itinvolves the surgeoninjecting glue intothe fistula while you're under a general anaesthetic. The glue helps seal the fistula and encourages it to heal.

It's generally less effective than fistulotomy for simple fistulas and the results may not be long-lasting. Butit may be a useful option for fistulas that pass through theanal sphincter muscles because they do not need to be cut.

Bioprosthetic plug

Another option is the insertion of a bioprosthetic plug.

This is a cone-shaped plug made from animal tissue that's used to block the internal opening of the fistula.

This procedure works well for blocking an anal fistula and there are no serious concerns about its safety.

Risks of anal fistula surgery

Like any type of treatment, treatment foranal fistulas carries a number of risks.

The main risks are:

  • infection – this mayrequire a course of antibiotics and severe cases may need to be treated in hospital
  • recurrence of the fistula –the fistula can sometimes reoccur despite surgery
  • bowel incontinence –this is a potential risk with most types of anal fistula treatment, although severe incontinenceis rare and every effort will be made to prevent it

The level of risk will depend on thingslike where your fistula is located and the specific procedure you have.

Speak to the surgeon about the potential risks of the procedure they recommend.

Page last reviewed: 21 February 2023
Next review due: 21 February 2026

Anal fistula - Treatment (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Jeremiah Abshire

Last Updated:

Views: 5536

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (74 voted)

Reviews: 89% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Jeremiah Abshire

Birthday: 1993-09-14

Address: Apt. 425 92748 Jannie Centers, Port Nikitaville, VT 82110

Phone: +8096210939894

Job: Lead Healthcare Manager

Hobby: Watching movies, Watching movies, Knapping, LARPing, Coffee roasting, Lacemaking, Gaming

Introduction: My name is Jeremiah Abshire, I am a outstanding, kind, clever, hilarious, curious, hilarious, outstanding person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.