An anal fissure is a longitudinal tear of the perianal skin distal to the dentate line, often due to increased anal sphincter tone. Anal fissures are classified according to etiology (e.g., trauma or underlying disease) or duration of disease (e.g., acute or chronic). They are typically very painful and may present with bright red blood per rectum (hematochezia). Anal fissures are a clinical diagnosis based on history and examination findings. Management is primarily conservative, and includes stool softeners, analgesia, and possible local muscle relaxation; because of the risk of incontinence, surgical intervention is a last resort.
Primary (due to local trauma)
- Location: 90% of all anal fissures located at the posterior commissure (6 o'clock in the lithotomy position)
- Types of trauma:
Secondary (due to underlying disease)
- Location: may occur lateral or anterior to the posterior commissure
- Underlying conditions:
- Overdistension or disease of the anal mucosa → laceration of the anoderm
- The posterior commissure is believed to have a very poor blood supply, which predisposes it to ischemia (exacerbated by poor perfusion during increased anal pressure).
- Sharp, severe pain during defecation
- Rectal bleeding (often bright red and minimal; should not be confused with other types of bleeding such as in or )
- Perianal pruritus
- Chronic constipation (see “Pathophysiology” above)
- Clinical examination
- Clinical history: see “Etiology” and “Clinical features” above
- Digital rectal examination: if diagnosis is uncertain or to exclude a suspected underlying pathology (e.g., rectal tumor)
The differential diagnoses listed here are not exhaustive.
- First‑line treatment for most anal fissures
- Dietary improvement (e.g., adequate ingestion of dietary fiber and water)
- Stool softeners (e.g., docusate)
- Anti‑inflammatory and analgesic creams and/or suppositories (e.g., 2% lidocaine jelly)
- Sitz baths
- Local anesthetic injection
- Topical vasodilator therapy: calcium channel blocker gel (e.g., nifedipine) or glyceryl trinitrate ointment (GTN)
- Persistent symptoms despite > 8 weeks of conservative therapy → endoscopy to exclude IBD
- If IBD is excluded, then the patient should receive definitive surgical treatment.
- Indicated when conservative treatment is unsuccessful
- The risk of fecal incontinence (e.g., high in multiparous or elderly patients) determines the type of surgical intervention.
Conservative therapy is preferred because of the risk of incontinence!