Difference Between Piles and Fistula and Fissure: Explained

Last modified on October 2020
With inputs from Dr. Pragnya Rao - General Physician

People often misunderstand the difference between piles and fistula and fissure. It is assumed that these conditions share similar characteristics. However, this is not the case.In this blog, we decode the difference between piles and fistula and fissure in Indian patients in detail – the what, how, why, and helpful treatments recommended to use for each condition.

To briefly introduce these medical terminologies:

  • Haemorrhoids, or piles, develop when the veins flowing inside the rectum and under the skin of the anus swell.
  • An anal fistula is an abnormal canal between the anus and the skin.
  • Anal fissure is a sharp cut in the lining of the anus.

Read along to delve deeper into understanding the difference between piles and fistula and fissure in Indian patients, their primary symptoms and treatment.

Important:

“Piles fistula and fissure are often confused for one another. While piles is swollen blood vessels surrounding the anal canal, fissure is a tear or crack in the tissue of the anus and fistula is an abnormal tunnel between the anus and the surrounding skin. If you notice any bleeding or discomfort while passing stools, you should consult with a physician to understand the underlying cause and get treatment for it.”
– Dr. Pragnya Rao, General Physician

Chapter 1: Key Symptoms of Piles & Characteristics

The rectum is an organ at the end of the human gastrointestinal system that is responsible for the storage of stools and evacuation through the anus. When the blood vessels (and the surrounding tissues) around the anus develop a swelling, the condition is known as piles.

India records more than 10 million
piles cases
every year!

Piles are divided into two broad categories:

  1. Internal Hemorrhoids:
  • As the name suggests, it is present deep inside the anus
  • Not visible to naked eye
  • Needs rectal examination for diagnosis
  • May cause painless bleeding
  1. External Hemorrhoids:
  • Formed on the outer lining of the anus
  • Forms small lump on the anus surface
  • Can be visible to the naked eye
  • Requires medical assistance
hemorrhoids

Causes of Piles

The key to understanding the difference between piles and fistula and fissure, is first of all understanding what piles is. Piles develop due to high pressure in the veins of the lower rectum and anal canal. This build-up, in turn, leads to inflammation and swelling in the area.

This may occur on account of various reasons:

  1. Chronic constipation
  2. Obesity
  3. Pregnancy
  4. Poor Diet – eating low fiber
  5. Genetics or ageing

Symptoms of Piles

The most common symptoms of piles are:

  • Lump, Soreness, and/or Redness near the anus
  • Pain during excretion
  • Painless bleeding
  • Mucus discharge from the anus
  • Persistent feeling of constipation – even after excretion

Classification of Piles Into Grades

Doctors categorize piles into four grades:

  • Grade I: Minor inflammations on the insides of the lining of the anus.
  • Grade II: They too remain inside the anal cavity. They may come out during excretion but often return spontaneously.
  • Grade III: Also known as prolapsed haemorrhoids, these lumps hang from the rectum, but can be easily re-inserted.
  • Grade IV: Large lumps around the anus that require medical treatments.

Treatment for Piles

Depending upon the severity of the condition, there are different kinds of treatment for Piles, like the following:

Non-Operative Treatments

For grade I and II piles, it is possible to treat the disease with the following non-surgical treatment options:

  • Fibre Supplementation
  • Increased Fluids
  • Bulk Purgative (Laxatives)
  • Relax during bowel movements – don’t strain
  • Exercise to lose weight

Remember this as
FIBRE

Moreover, various creams, ointments, and pads are available as over-the-counter (OTC) medicines that help ease the symptoms.

In situations of colorectal malignancy (a malignant tumor of the large intestine), it is essential to normalize bowel habits. The solution for this condition includes:

  • The adoption of stool softeners
  • Inserting collapsible tubes into the rectum to apply proprietary creams before defecation
  • Inserting suppositories

Surgical Alternatives

  1. Banding: The Barron’s bander is a commonly available device that slips tight elastic bands onto the base of the organ affected with haemorrhoids. This band cuts off the blood supply, thereby causing ischemic necrosis or death of the piles within 10 days.
  2. Sclerotherapy: This treatment for Piles option involves injecting 5% phenol in peanut or almond oil for treating first and second-degree piles whose symptoms are not cured with conservative measures.
  3. Infrared Coagulation: Here, doctors use devices that emit infrared lights to incinerate the internal haemorrhoid tissues.
  4. Hemorrhoidectomy: It is necessary to opt for surgery to treat grade II and III haemorrhoids. This is done via 3 routes: open, closed, and with a stapler. The previous two cause more discomfort than its stapler counterpart but lead to fewer recurrences.
  5. Hemorrhoid Stapling: A novel method to curing grade III and IV haemorrhoids, it also goes by the name of Procedure for Prolapse and Haemorrhoids [PPH]. The surgical technique uses a circular anal dilator and is less painful than an excisional haemorrhoidectomy.

Summary
– Piles are the result of the swellings of the blood vessels and tissues surrounding the anal canal.
– Everyday habits determine the chances of developing haemorrhoids. Therefore, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
– Piles are categorized into four grades. This distinction defines the course of treatment – surgical or non-surgical.

Now that we know what Piles is, read on to further understand the difference between Piles and fistula. and fissure.

Consult top general physicians on MFine to know more about Piles and its symptoms

Chapter 2: What is Fistula and How to Treat It?

Many people confuse fistula with piles without knowing the difference between piles and fistula. A fistula-in-ano is the infected channel between the anal canal and rectum with the perianal (exterior) skin.

The key difference between piles and fistula is the latter induces pain and pus discharge from the anal area, whilst the former is usually painless.

Fistula

Causes of Anal Fistula

A fistula occurs due to persistent anal gland infection, which results in anorectal abscesses – when the anal or the rectum cavity is filled with pus.

Since the anal has multiple openings, treatment of one fistula does not guarantee the impossibility of spread to the rest of the areas.

In India, tuberculosis is a widespread disease. Patients suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis are at risk of developing multiple anal fistulae. These fistulae are not hard but experience watery discharge without pus and this is a key reason why it is important to know the difference between piles and fistula.

Health Conditions That Cause Anal Fistula

  • Rectal Cancer
  • Crohn’s Ileitis: Inflammation of the ileum, which is the last part of the small intestine
  • Schistosomiasis: Infection of the urinary tract or the intestines
  • Ulcerative Colitis: Causes persistent inflammation and ulcers in the innermost lining of the largest intestine and rectum
  • Lymphogranuloma Venereum: An ulcerative disease of the genital area – can be acquired sexually
  • Diverticulitis: Inflammation of the large intestine

Symptoms and Diagnosis to Identify Fistula 

Common Symptoms

  • Perianal cellulitis, or redness of the skin
  • Anorectal pain and swellings
  • Pus discharges
  • Fever
  • Irritation of the perianal skin
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Foul-smelling liquid from the anal hole

Diagnosis Procedure

Usually, a fistula is identified as an external opening in the anal cavity. It can be identified by four signs:

  • Opening at the bottom of a depressed area
  • Discharging pus
  • Palpable area
  • Granulation tissue, or new tissue and blood vessels healing the surface of the wound

Depending upon the complexity, the following methods can be used to identify the fistulas or determine the severity of the condition:

  1. Proctoscopy or Sigmoidoscopy: Introducing a device with a lighting beam in one direction or a fibre-optic camera (respectively) to get a clear view of the rectum
  2. Endorectal Ultrasonography: High-frequency sound waves to evaluate the fistula tract and its surrounding tissues
  3. MRI: Analyses the details in the pelvic zone
  4. Fistulography: Special x-ray to study the abnormal cavity
  5. Anoscope: Small instrument inserted into the anus to study the internal anatomy
  6. Fistula Probe: A long, thin device inserted through the opening of a fistula. It is accompanied by a special dye that helps understand the exact position of the fistula inside.

Methods 2 and 3 can be decided to use for special cases. Some of these examinations are conducted with regional anaesthesia.

Treatment for Anal Fistula

Being aware of the difference between Piles and Fistula and Fissure makes us understand, that when compared to piles, the treatment for fistulas can only be done through surgery.

Depending upon the complexity of the condition, the following lines of treatment for fistula are recommended:

  1. Fistulotomy

In this procedure, a probe is inserted through the external opening into the rectum and along the track where the fistula is open. The wound is left open and left to heal with the natural formation of granulation tissues. Intersphincteric (found in the space between internal and external anal sphincters) and low transsphincteric fistulas of recent origins can be treated by this method.

The advantages are:

  • Fewer chances of recurrence
  • Easy procedure
  • Outpatient procedure – can return home on the same day
  1. Fistulectomy 

There are two kinds of fistulectomy:

  • Chronic fistulae (low) are treated by excising the entire fibrous tissues and the tract. The wound is left open. A minor drawback is that the patient may experience some incontinence, i.e. lack of voluntary control over urination and defecation.
  • To treat high fistula-in-ano, colostomy surgery can be conducted. Under colostomy, a portion of the colon is cut open and diverted into the abdominal wall to create a small opening for collecting faeces.
  1. Fibrin Glue and Collagen Plug

This is a new method of treatment that includes a two-step process:

First, it closes the internal opening of the fistula. Then, fibrin glue is injected in the tunnel that the body eventually absorbs with time.

  1. Ligation of the Intersphincteric Fistula Tract (LIFT)

LIFT is primarily performed for complex and deep fistulas. It enables the surgeon to access the fistula between the sphincter muscles to avoid cutting them.

A seton is placed into the fistula tract to widen the gap with time. After a few weeks, the surgeon removes the infected tissue and closes the internal fistula opening.

  1. FiLaC: Fistula-Tract Laser Closure 

A quicker method (done in approximately 30 minutes) to treating fistulas in India has been introduced.

In this laser treatments for fistulas, a laser fibre, with a set amount of laser energy is inserted from the external opening. It causes controlled destruction of the internal nodes by reducing the blood supply nourishing the abnormal growth.

Chances of reoccurrence are low with this route of treatment.

Summary
– An anal fistula is an infected channel between the anus and its surrounding skin. It is the result of persistent anal gland infection.
– Usually, it is diagnosed with a physical examination. However, the doctor may prescribe digital methodologies, depending upon the complexity of the situation.
– There is only one route of treatment for fistulas: surgery. In India, laser surgeries are rising in demand.

Consult your city’s top general doctors for expert care and fistula treatment plans

Chapter 3: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment of Anal Fissures

An anal fissure is characterised by a longitudinal tear in the mucosa (tissue) that lines the anus. It starts by passing hard stools that cause a crack. This is the most painful condition, commonly observed amongst the young population.

90% of anal fissures occur in the posterior part of the anal canal. The remaining 10% occur in the front.

Anterior fissures are commonly noticed in women subjected to multiple vaginal deliveries. The reason? A damaged pelvic floor and lack of support to the anal mucous membrane.

pelvic-floor

Signs of Fissure 

  • A noticeable tear around the anus
  • Burning and/or itching sensations in the anal area
  • Hard and bleeding stool
  • Intense pain during and after defecation
  • Small perianal abscess – a severe condition

Causes of Fissure

  • Hard faeces
  • Surgical procedures like hemorrhoidectomy
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s
  • Multiple childbirths
  • Abuse of laxatives and ointments
  • HIV or Syphilis

Diagnosing an Anal Fissure

A physical rectal examination can reveal the state of the tear and a hypertrophied i.e. thickened skin near the lower end of the fissure.

Depending upon the severity, further tests are recommended:

  1. Proctoscopy
  2. Anoscopy
  3. Colonoscopy

The difference between piles and fistula and fissure is that a fissure is the tearing of the anus lining whereas a fistula is an abnormal connection between the anus and the skin. This brings us to a clear understanding of the difference between Piles and Fistula and Fissure. Now we shall look at the methods of treatment for fissure.

Treatment for Fissure 

Conservative Alternatives

  1. Eat fibre-rich diet, take mild laxatives, and don’t postpone defecation.
  2. Apply anaesthetic creams to ease discomfort
  3. Sitz bath (immersing your lower region in warm water)
  4. Your doctor might prescribe antibiotics

Surgical Treatments

  1. Lateral Internal Sphincterotomy (LIS)

In this procedure, the internal sphincter is divided away from the fissure. LIS has a high success rate and should be limited to the length of the fissure to avoid incontinence.

  1. Fissurectomy and Local Advancement Flap 

To treat persisting, chronic and non-healing fissures, the defect remaining after the excision of the fissure is closed by a small rhomboid advancement flap.

The recovery takes longer as compared to other kinds of treatment for fissure. It is advisable not to consider this as the first line of solution.

Summary
– A fissure is a noticeable cut in the lining of the anus. It leads to terrible pain during defecation.
– 90% of the fissures affect the posterior of the anal canal.
– Usually, fissures can be cured at home by resorting to home remedies and laxatives. Very few cases require surgery.

Consult top general physicians on MFine to know more about Anal fissure, its symptoms, and how to figure out the difference between piles and fistula and fissure.

Chapter 4: Understanding the Difference Between Piles and Fissure and Fistula

The critical difference between Piles and Fistula and Fissure  is:
Piles affect the blood vessels inside the anal canal.
Fistula is an abnormal tunnel between the anus and the surrounding skin.
A fissure is a visibly painful crack on the lining of the anus tissue.

The symptoms and causes of piles, fistulas, and fissures help differentiate (and diagnose) these conditions accurately. The table below highlights the differentiating criteria:

diagnose
Symptoms

Summary
– Based on their symptoms and causes, piles, anal fistulas, and fissures are distinctly different from each other.
– To avoid these diseases, patients must maintain a healthy lifestyle that entails a fibre-rich diet, good liquid intake, and regular exercise.

Consult your city’s top general physicians on MFine for an accurate diagnosis of your condition

Chapter 5: FAQs About Piles, Fistula, and Fissure

Piles, Fistula, and Fissures are serious conditions. To acquire a good understanding of the difference between piles and fistula and fissures, read this set of the most Frequently Asked Questions below:

Piles 

Q1. Do men and women suffer from haemorrhoids at the same rate? 

Haemorrhoids affect both genders at the same rate. The risk is higher for adults between 45-65 years of age. Despite this widespread incidence, only 4% of the infected experience severe problems due to enlarged haemorrhoids.

Q2. How many pregnant women suffer from piles in India?

Pregnant women can experience piles due to an enlarged uterus or weaker muscles, a typical result of hormonal changes. It is found that 1 in every 10 expected mothers suffer from piles in India.

Q3. How do doctors diagnose piles?

Depending on the patient’s symptoms, a physician can diagnose piles with a visual examination of the anus. A physical test is the first (and most frequently) used procedure. Here, the doctor inserts a lubricated finger into the rectum to check for abnormalities.

To check for internal haemorrhoids, doctors prefer using the Proctoscopy methodology. Here, a device is inserted inside the rectum. The light on the lens gives a good view to make an informed diagnosis.

In some cases, a small fibre optic-camera, also known as sigmoidoscopy, is inserted into the rectum.

Q4. What are the chances of reoccurrence after surgery?

Usually, surgery cures piles. But the chances of reoccurrence depends on how well does a patient take care post-surgery. It is vital to maintain a fibre-rich diet along with hydrating the body.

Once healed, it is recommended to keep the body weight in check. Yoga is the best exercise to help a person remain healthy (physically and mentally).

Q5. What happens if piles is left untreated? 

It is essential to treat piles at the earliest. If untreated, the internal haemorrhoids can stick out – leading to irritation, rashes, bleeding, and other severe complications during excretion.

Q6. Which other factors lead to stool bleeding? 

Stool bleeding is not limited to haemorrhoids. It may also be due to:

  • Anal Fissure
  • Diverticulosis
  • Colon Cancer
  • Colitis – Inflammation of the colon
  • Peptic Ulcers

Anal Fistula 

Q1. Which bacteria is most commonly associated with anal gland infection?

Common anal abscess causative bacteria include E.Coli, Bacteroides spp, and Enterococcus spp.

Q2. Does an abscess always convert into a fistula?

50% of abscess cases convert into a fistula. Thus, if you have an abscess, you might not necessarily develop a fistula.

Q3. Which other organs are susceptible to develop a fistula?

Fistulas can occur between different parts of the body. Some of them are:

  • Bile duct and the surrounding skin
  • Cervix and vagina
  • Neck and throat
  • Bowel and vagina
  • Stomach and surrounding skin
  • Navel and the gut
  • Artery and veins in the lung

Q4. Can an abscess or fistula recur? 

There’s a good chance that a fistula will recur. Since the anal has multiple glands, it is recommended to prevent the symptoms by maintaining healthy hygiene habits and following a fibre-rich diet.

Q5. Is the operation painful? 

The surgical treatment for the fistula depends upon its location and complexity in the body. If the operation is simple, chances are you can return home the same day. With complicated surgeries, the patient needs to stay at the hospital to get proper medical attention.

Some discomfort can be experienced post-surgery. However, it is short-lived. Proper medical attention and healthy habits speed-up the recovery timeline.

Q6. What precautions should be taken post-surgery to prevent recurrence?

It is natural to experience some pain and bleeding after surgery. However, it is important to rest well for at least 24 hours post-surgery.

If discharged immediately, follow the guidelines as suggested by your doctor to keep the wound clean and packed. A healthy diet, good liquid intake, and a temporary break from exercise are recommended.

Fissure

Q1. What should be done to treat chronic constipation?

Constipation is the most common cause of fissures. Therefore, it is essential to cure them at the earliest. Some effective remedies are:

  • Eating fibre-rich food like apple, oranges, carrots, broccoli, etc.
  • Drinking more fluids
  • Regular exercising to ease defecation

Further, on your doctor’s recommendation, it is ideal to consume bulk-forming agents like methylcellulose, stool softeners like docusate, osmotic laxatives such as Milk of Magnesia, and lubricant laxatives like mineral oil.

Q2. What is a Sitz Bath?

Sitz, meaning to sit, refers to a kind of bath that involves sitting on a bathtub filled with warm water. Add salt to the water and spread your legs for the water to touch your genitals. Regularly conducting sitz bath for one week should help heal the initial anal tear.

Q3. How many cases of fissure require surgery?

Most of the anal fissure cases heal on their own. Eating fibre-rich food, taking sitz baths, and applying anaesthetic creams should help fix the tear. Very few cases require surgery in India.

Q4. How long does a fissure take to heal without surgery?

Short-term anal fissures typically heal between 4-6 weeks without operations. When home-remedies are implemented regularly, the patient will be freed from the pain.

Q5. How does a fibre-rich diet treat constipation?

Soluble and insoluble fibre is vital for the human body. Soluble fibre (apple, oranges, carrots, etc.) allows water to remain in the stool; thereby, smoothening the digestive tract.

Insoluble fibre (brown rice, nuts, lentils, etc.) adds bulk to the faecal material that allows quick movement of the stool outside the body, thereby reducing the constipation feelings.

Q6. Do fissures recur?

Yes. There are good chances for fissures to recur if an individual develops constipation or any other inflammatory disease.

In order to prevent this recurrence, it is imperative to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Conclusion

Piles, anal fistula, and fissures affect the anal canal. However, this commonality should not be mistaken as a single disease. Each of these diseases affects the human body in different sub-locations and with varying intensities.

It is important to carefully analyse every symptom and accordingly seek medical assistance. If you’re suffering from piles, anal fistula, or fissures, consult your doctor immediately, and things will soon be back to normal.

Book an instant consultation with the best general doctors on MFine to get treated for your condition!

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