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Anal Fissure

An anal fissure Fissure A crack or split that extends into the dermis Generalized and Localized Rashes is a painful superficial tear of the epithelial lining (anoderm) of the anal canal. Anal fissures Anal fissures A painful linear tear at the margin of the anus. It appears as a crack or slit in the mucous membrane of the anus and is very painful and difficult to heal. Constipation most often occur secondary to local trauma or irritation from constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation, diarrhea Diarrhea Diarrhea is defined as ≥ 3 watery or loose stools in a 24-hour period. There are a multitude of etiologies, which can be classified based on the underlying mechanism of disease. The duration of symptoms (acute or chronic) and characteristics of the stools (e.g., watery, bloody, steatorrheic, mucoid) can help guide further diagnostic evaluation. Diarrhea, anal intercourse Anal intercourse Hemorrhoids, or perineal lacerations during childbirth. Treatment is generally conservative, including stool softeners, bulking agents, sitz baths, and/or topical vasodilators Vasodilators Drugs used to cause dilation of the blood vessels. Thromboangiitis Obliterans (Buerger’s Disease).

Last updated: 25 Apr, 2022

Editorial responsibility: Stanley Oiseth, Lindsay Jones, Evelin Maza

Definition and Epidemiology

Definition

  • Superficial tear of the epithelial lining (anoderm) of the anal canal 
  • Distal to the dentate line Dentate line Rectum and Anal Canal: Anatomy
  • Acute fissures involve the epithelium Epithelium The epithelium is a complex of specialized cellular organizations arranged into sheets and lining cavities and covering the surfaces of the body. The cells exhibit polarity, having an apical and a basal pole. Structures important for the epithelial integrity and function involve the basement membrane, the semipermeable sheet on which the cells rest, and interdigitations, as well as cellular junctions. Surface Epithelium: Histology.
  • Chronic fissures involve the full thickness of the anal mucosa.

Epidemiology

  • Most common in infants and middle-aged adults
  • Exact incidence Incidence The number of new cases of a given disease during a given period in a specified population. It also is used for the rate at which new events occur in a defined population. It is differentiated from prevalence, which refers to all cases in the population at a given time. Measures of Disease Frequency unknown
  • Males and females equally affected

Etiology and Pathophysiology

Etiology

  • Acute fissure Fissure A crack or split that extends into the dermis Generalized and Localized Rashes:
    • Forceful dilation of the anal canal (local trauma) due to:
      • Large, hard stools secondary to constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation
      • Irritating, diarrheal stools
      • Anal intercourse Anal intercourse Hemorrhoids
    • Other causes:
      • Habitual use of cathartics
      • Childbirth with 3rd- or 4th-degree perineal lacerations
  • Chronic fissure Fissure A crack or split that extends into the dermis Generalized and Localized Rashes:
    • Unhealed anal fissure Fissure A crack or split that extends into the dermis Generalized and Localized Rashes
    • Previous anal surgery (possible stenosis Stenosis Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS) of the anal canal)
    • Crohn’s disease
    • Infections Infections Invasion of the host organism by microorganisms or their toxins or by parasites that can cause pathological conditions or diseases. Chronic Granulomatous Disease
      • Tuberculosis Tuberculosis Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex bacteria. The bacteria usually attack the lungs but can also damage other parts of the body. Approximately 30% of people around the world are infected with this pathogen, with the majority harboring a latent infection. Tuberculosis spreads through the air when a person with active pulmonary infection coughs or sneezes. Tuberculosis
      • HIV HIV Anti-HIV Drugs
      • Chlamydia Chlamydia Chlamydiae are obligate intracellular gram-negative bacteria. They lack a peptidoglycan layer and are best visualized using Giemsa stain. The family of Chlamydiaceae comprises 3 pathogens that can infect humans: Chlamydia trachomatis, Chlamydia psittaci, and Chlamydia pneumoniae. Chlamydia
      • Syphilis Syphilis Syphilis is a bacterial infection caused by the spirochete Treponema pallidum pallidum (T. p. pallidum), which is usually spread through sexual contact. Syphilis has 4 clinical stages: primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary. Syphilis
    • Leukemia
    • Squamous cell anal carcinoma

Pathophysiology

  • Location: 90% posterior midline, 10% anterior midline 
    • Most posterior midline fissures occur due to:
    • Most anterior midline fissures occur from vaginal delivery
    • If the anal fissure Fissure A crack or split that extends into the dermis Generalized and Localized Rashes is not midline, consider possible causes such as Crohn’s disease, infections Infections Invasion of the host organism by microorganisms or their toxins or by parasites that can cause pathological conditions or diseases. Chronic Granulomatous Disease, or anal cancer Anal cancer Anal cancer accounts for 2.7% of all gastrointestinal tract cancers. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of anal cancer. The patient can present with rectal bleeding (most common), change in bowel habits, perianal pruritic mass, or perianal painful ulceration. Anal Cancer.
  • Repetitive injury often occurs due to:
    • Local trauma
    • Anal hypertonicity Hypertonicity Volume Depletion and Dehydration
      • Tightening of the anal canal secondary to pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways leads to further tearing.
    • Sphincter spasm
      • Prevents edges from healing and leads to further tearing
    • Vascular insufficiency due to:
      • Increased sphincter tone 
      • Decreased perfusion from large anal canal circumference

Clinical Presentation

  • Acute fissure Fissure A crack or split that extends into the dermis Generalized and Localized Rashes
    • Symptoms: < 8 weeks
    • History:
      • Severe onset of anal pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways with defecation Defecation The normal process of elimination of fecal material from the rectum. Gastrointestinal Motility; often lasts for hours afterward
      • Constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation
      • Hematochezia Hematochezia Gastrointestinal Bleeding (bright-red blood in stools)
    • Physical exam findings:
  • Chronic fissure Fissure A crack or split that extends into the dermis Generalized and Localized Rashes
    • Symptoms: lasting > 8 weeks
    • Physical exam findings:
      • Tear in anal mucosa with possible visible fibers of anal sphincter
      • Sentinel skin Skin The skin, also referred to as the integumentary system, is the largest organ of the body. The skin is primarily composed of the epidermis (outer layer) and dermis (deep layer). The epidermis is primarily composed of keratinocytes that undergo rapid turnover, while the dermis contains dense layers of connective tissue. Skin: Structure and Functions tags (external skin Skin The skin, also referred to as the integumentary system, is the largest organ of the body. The skin is primarily composed of the epidermis (outer layer) and dermis (deep layer). The epidermis is primarily composed of keratinocytes that undergo rapid turnover, while the dermis contains dense layers of connective tissue. Skin: Structure and Functions tags)
      • Hypertrophied anal papillae Papillae Lips and Tongue: Anatomy

Diagnosis and Management

Diagnosis

  • History is often classic and the basis of diagnosis.
  • Confirmed on physical examination by:
    • Direct visualization
    • Reproducible anal pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways with gentle palpation Palpation Application of fingers with light pressure to the surface of the body to determine consistency of parts beneath in physical diagnosis; includes palpation for determining the outlines of organs. Dermatologic Examination
  • If fissure Fissure A crack or split that extends into the dermis Generalized and Localized Rashes is not midline or history is more complicated, then additional testing may be warranted:
    • Anoscopy (when pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways has subsided)
    • Biopsy Biopsy Removal and pathologic examination of specimens from the living body. Ewing Sarcoma
    • HIV testing HIV testing Diagnosis of HIV infections by assaying bodily fluids or tissues for the presence of HIV antibodies; HIV antigens; or the viral RNA of HIV. HIV Infection and AIDS
    • Stool cultures Cultures Klebsiella
    • Colonoscopy Colonoscopy Endoscopic examination, therapy or surgery of the luminal surface of the colon. Colorectal Cancer Screening/ sigmoidoscopy Sigmoidoscopy Endoscopic examination, therapy or surgery of the sigmoid flexure. Colorectal Cancer Screening as indicated (e.g., rectal bleeding)
    • Colonoscopy Colonoscopy Endoscopic examination, therapy or surgery of the luminal surface of the colon. Colorectal Cancer Screening and small bowel Small bowel The small intestine is the longest part of the GI tract, extending from the pyloric orifice of the stomach to the ileocecal junction. The small intestine is the major organ responsible for chemical digestion and absorption of nutrients. It is divided into 3 segments: the duodenum, the jejunum, and the ileum. Small Intestine: Anatomy imaging if features of Crohn disease

Management

  • Medical management
    • Goals: 
      • Eliminate constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation
      • Decrease anal spasms Spasms An involuntary contraction of a muscle or group of muscles. Spasms may involve skeletal muscle or smooth muscle. Ion Channel Myopathy.
      • Prevent further anal epithelial tears. 
      • Promote healing.
    • Treatment may include:
      • Stool softeners, bulking agents, sitz baths
      • Topical nitroglycerin Nitroglycerin A volatile vasodilator which relieves angina pectoris by stimulating guanylate cyclase and lowering cytosolic calcium. It is also sometimes used for tocolysis and explosives. Nitrates or nifedipine Nifedipine A potent vasodilator agent with calcium antagonistic action. It is a useful anti-anginal agent that also lowers blood pressure. Class 4 Antiarrhythmic Drugs (Calcium Channel Blockers): increases local blood flow Blood flow Blood flow refers to the movement of a certain volume of blood through the vasculature over a given unit of time (e.g., mL per minute). Vascular Resistance, Flow, and Mean Arterial Pressure (vasodilates), promoting healing and relieving sphincter spasm
      • Topical lidocaine Lidocaine A local anesthetic and cardiac depressant used as an antiarrhythmic agent. Its actions are more intense and its effects more prolonged than those of procaine but its duration of action is shorter than that of bupivacaine or prilocaine. Local Anesthetics
      • Botulinum toxin Botulinum toxin Toxic proteins produced from the species Clostridium botulinum. The toxins are synthesized as a single peptide chain which is processed into a mature protein consisting of a heavy chain and light chain joined via a disulfide bond. The botulinum toxin light chain is a zinc-dependent protease which is released from the heavy chain upon endocytosis into presynaptic nerve endings. Once inside the cell the botulinum toxin light chain cleaves specific snare proteins which are essential for secretion of acetylcholine by synaptic vesicles. This inhibition of acetylcholine release results in muscular paralysis. Botulism injections
        • Inhibit the release Release Release of a virus from the host cell following virus assembly and maturation. Egress can occur by host cell lysis, exocytosis, or budding through the plasma membrane. Virology of acetylcholine Acetylcholine A neurotransmitter found at neuromuscular junctions, autonomic ganglia, parasympathetic effector junctions, a subset of sympathetic effector junctions, and at many sites in the central nervous system. Receptors and Neurotransmitters of the CNS ( ACh ACh A neurotransmitter found at neuromuscular junctions, autonomic ganglia, parasympathetic effector junctions, a subset of sympathetic effector junctions, and at many sites in the central nervous system. Receptors and Neurotransmitters of the CNS)
        • Reduce sphincter spasm
        • Long lasting (up to 3 months)
  • Surgical management
    • Reserved for fissures refractory to medical management or chronic fissures 
    • Surgical options:
      • Lateral internal anal sphincterotomy 
        • Most effective
        • Current procedure of choice
        • Relieves sphincter spasm → increases blood flow Blood flow Blood flow refers to the movement of a certain volume of blood through the vasculature over a given unit of time (e.g., mL per minute). Vascular Resistance, Flow, and Mean Arterial Pressure and promotes healing 
        • Can be done with or without fissurectomy
      • Anal advancement flap (anoplasty)
      • Sphincter dilation (no longer commonly used secondary to high complication rates)

Mnemonic

The “Ds” of anal fissures Anal fissures A painful linear tear at the margin of the anus. It appears as a crack or slit in the mucous membrane of the anus and is very painful and difficult to heal. Constipation

  • Distal to the Dental line
  • bleeDing During Defecation; 
  • Dull puD en EN Erythema nodosum is an immune-mediated panniculitis (inflammation of the subcutaneous fat) caused by a type IV (delayed-type) hypersensitivity reaction. It commonly manifests in young women as tender, erythematous nodules on the shins. Erythema NodosumD al AL Amyloidosis pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways
  • Diet low in fiber ( constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation)

Differential Diagnosis

  • Anal carcinoma: neoplastic disease in which cancer cells form and grow in the anus. Symptoms include bleeding from the anus, anal pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways, anal mass Mass Three-dimensional lesion that occupies a space within the breast Imaging of the Breast, or itching. Risk factors include older age, infections Infections Invasion of the host organism by microorganisms or their toxins or by parasites that can cause pathological conditions or diseases. Chronic Granulomatous Disease such as human papillomavirus Human papillomavirus Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a nonenveloped, circular, double-stranded DNA virus belonging to the Papillomaviridae family. Humans are the only reservoir, and transmission occurs through close skin-to-skin or sexual contact. Human papillomaviruses infect basal epithelial cells and can affect cell-regulatory proteins to result in cell proliferation. Papillomavirus (HPV) ( HPV HPV Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a nonenveloped, circular, double-stranded DNA virus belonging to the Papillomaviridae family. Humans are the only reservoir, and transmission occurs through close skin-to-skin or sexual contact. Human papillomaviruses infect basal epithelial cells and can affect cell-regulatory proteins to result in cell proliferation. Papillomavirus (HPV)), multiple sexual partners, and anal sex Sex The totality of characteristics of reproductive structure, functions, phenotype, and genotype, differentiating the male from the female organism. Gender Dysphoria. Anal carcinoma is diagnosed by biopsy Biopsy Removal and pathologic examination of specimens from the living body. Ewing Sarcoma. Treatment can include surgery, radiation Radiation Emission or propagation of acoustic waves (sound), electromagnetic energy waves (such as light; radio waves; gamma rays; or x-rays), or a stream of subatomic particles (such as electrons; neutrons; protons; or alpha particles). Osteosarcoma, or chemotherapy Chemotherapy Osteosarcoma. In a chronic or atypical anal fissure Fissure A crack or split that extends into the dermis Generalized and Localized Rashes, anal carcinoma needs to be ruled out.
  • Anal fistula Anal fistula Anal fistulas are abnormal communications between the anorectal lumen and another body structure, often to the skin. Anal fistulas often occur due to extension of anal abscesses but are also associated with specific diseases such as Crohn’s disease. Anal Fistula or abscess Abscess Accumulation of purulent material in tissues, organs, or circumscribed spaces, usually associated with signs of infection. Chronic Granulomatous Disease: an abnormal connection between the epithelium Epithelium The epithelium is a complex of specialized cellular organizations arranged into sheets and lining cavities and covering the surfaces of the body. The cells exhibit polarity, having an apical and a basal pole. Structures important for the epithelial integrity and function involve the basement membrane, the semipermeable sheet on which the cells rest, and interdigitations, as well as cellular junctions. Surface Epithelium: Histology of the anal canal and another body structure. Anal fistulas often occur due to extension Extension Examination of the Upper Limbs of anal abscesses. Symptoms include anal pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways or abnormal discharge/drainage. Management is primarily surgical, with a fistulotomy Fistulotomy Anal Fistula. Anal abscesses produce a tender bulge/ mass Mass Three-dimensional lesion that occupies a space within the breast Imaging of the Breast in the anorectal region. In anal fistulas, there is the presence of a palpable fistulous tract.
  • Hemorrhoids Hemorrhoids Hemorrhoids are normal vascular cushions in the anal canal composed of dilated vascular tissue, smooth muscle, and connective tissue. They do not cause issues unless they are enlarged, inflamed, thrombosed, or prolapsed. Patients often present with rectal bleeding of bright red blood, or they may have pain, perianal pruritus, or a palpable mass. Hemorrhoids: enlargement of anal cushions (submucosal vessels) at the distal rectum Rectum The rectum and anal canal are the most terminal parts of the lower GI tract/large intestine that form a functional unit and control defecation. Fecal continence is maintained by several important anatomic structures including rectal folds, anal valves, the sling-like puborectalis muscle, and internal and external anal sphincters. Rectum and Anal Canal: Anatomy. Depending on the location of the veins Veins Veins are tubular collections of cells, which transport deoxygenated blood and waste from the capillary beds back to the heart. Veins are classified into 3 types: small veins/venules, medium veins, and large veins. Each type contains 3 primary layers: tunica intima, tunica media, and tunica adventitia. Veins: Histology, hemorrhoids Hemorrhoids Hemorrhoids are normal vascular cushions in the anal canal composed of dilated vascular tissue, smooth muscle, and connective tissue. They do not cause issues unless they are enlarged, inflamed, thrombosed, or prolapsed. Patients often present with rectal bleeding of bright red blood, or they may have pain, perianal pruritus, or a palpable mass. Hemorrhoids can be internal or external. External hemorrhoids Hemorrhoids Hemorrhoids are normal vascular cushions in the anal canal composed of dilated vascular tissue, smooth muscle, and connective tissue. They do not cause issues unless they are enlarged, inflamed, thrombosed, or prolapsed. Patients often present with rectal bleeding of bright red blood, or they may have pain, perianal pruritus, or a palpable mass. Hemorrhoids are painful, whereas internal hemorrhoids Hemorrhoids Hemorrhoids are normal vascular cushions in the anal canal composed of dilated vascular tissue, smooth muscle, and connective tissue. They do not cause issues unless they are enlarged, inflamed, thrombosed, or prolapsed. Patients often present with rectal bleeding of bright red blood, or they may have pain, perianal pruritus, or a palpable mass. Hemorrhoids are painless; both can bleed and appear as a soft rectal mass Mass Three-dimensional lesion that occupies a space within the breast Imaging of the Breast on exam. Commonly caused by constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation, and diagnosed on exam. Treatment includes stool softeners, topical hydrocortisone Hydrocortisone The main glucocorticoid secreted by the adrenal cortex. Its synthetic counterpart is used, either as an injection or topically, in the treatment of inflammation, allergy, collagen diseases, asthma, adrenocortical deficiency, shock, and some neoplastic conditions. Immunosuppressants, and sitz baths. Additional treatment options are rubber band ligation Band ligation Mallory-Weiss Syndrome (Mallory-Weiss Tear) or surgical removal.  
  • Perianal ulcerations: erosions Erosions Corneal Abrasions, Erosion, and Ulcers in the perianal mucosa. Occur secondary to inflammatory bowel disease, most notably Crohn’s disease, infections Infections Invasion of the host organism by microorganisms or their toxins or by parasites that can cause pathological conditions or diseases. Chronic Granulomatous Disease, and cancer. Symptoms include pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways, bleeding, and erosions Erosions Corneal Abrasions, Erosion, and Ulcers in the lining of the mucosa. Treatment is aimed at the causative disease. Perianal ulcerations are differentiated from anal fissures Anal fissures A painful linear tear at the margin of the anus. It appears as a crack or slit in the mucous membrane of the anus and is very painful and difficult to heal. Constipation on physical exam by deeper erosions Erosions Corneal Abrasions, Erosion, and Ulcers in mucosa and evidence of other causative diseases.

References

  1. Poritz, Lisa A. (2020). Anal Fissure Treatment & Management. Medscape. Retrieved Oct 2, 2020, from https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/196297-treatment#d15
  2. Stewart, David B. (2020). Anal fissure: Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, prevention. Uptodate. Retrieved Oct 1st, 2020, from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/anal-fissure-clinical-manifestations-diagnosis-prevention?search=anal%20fissure&source=search_result&selectedTitle=2~59&usage_type=default&display_rank=2

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