A Guide to Colorectal Conditions: What You Should Know
Having a healthy body requires being in top shape from head to toe — including the parts you can't see, such as the colorectal system. Although you usually might not spend much time thinking about your colorectal anatomy, you'll probably start to notice it more once a problem arises.
By paying attention to your body and seeking medical help as needed, you may be able to identify problems with the colon, rectum or anus early on. Keep an eye out for the following colorectal conditions, and then talk to your care provider about your diagnosis and treatment options.
A tear in the anal tissue is known as an anal fissure. Large or hard bowel movements are a common cause of this condition.
Symptoms: If you have a fistula, you might find bowel movements painful. When you wipe, you may spot blood on the toilet paper.
Diagnosis: Your doctor will use an anoscope to examine your anus and identify anal fissures.
Treatment: Taking sitz baths and using stool softeners may help your fissure heal. If more treatment is needed, you may be given medication, anal dilators or a surgery referral.
A small channel may develop between your rectal wall and the outside skin of your buttocks. This is called an anal fistula or fistula-in-ano. Fistulas often run through the anal sphincter muscle, which can complicate surgical treatment.
Symptoms: Fistula-in-ano may cause pain or irritation. You might have discharge that includes pus, blood or fecal material, and it may have an unpleasant odor.
Diagnosis: Your doctor may be able to diagnose an anal fistula after a visual inspection of the area. Sometimes, an ultrasound or an MRI may be required.
Treatment: Anal fistulas require surgery. The traditional approach involves cutting the fistula out or opening it up, but laser surgery can be an effective, less-invasive alternative.
Also known as piles, hemorrhoids are inflamed blood vessels in the rectal area. They may be internal, which means that they begin inside the rectum, or external, which means that they sit near the anus.
Symptoms: Hemorrhoids can cause irritation, pain, itching, bleeding and swelling. External hemorrhoids can often be felt as a bump near the anus, and some internal hemorrhoids protrude from the rectum.
Diagnosis: A doctor can use manual and visual examination to identify hemorrhoids.
Treatment: Some hemorrhoids require only at-home care. Those that require surgical intervention may respond to minimally invasive procedures like rubber band ligation or laser ablation. Some severe hemorrhoids might require more extensive surgery.
Watch this video to learn more about hemorrhoids:
A small dimple or channel can form at the cleft of the buttocks. It's called a pilonidal cyst or a pilonidal sinus. Although not all pilonidal cysts are problematic, they are prone to infection.
Symptoms: A pilonidal infection can be extremely painful. There may be discharge with blood or pus. You may develop a lump near the top of your buttocks or spike a fever.
Diagnosis: Doctors can often diagnose a pilonidal cyst by examining the area. Sometimes, an ultrasound or an MRI may be required.
Treatment: For a one-time infection, the doctor can drain the sinus and prescribe antibiotics. Recurrent infections may require a laser procedure or surgery.
Polyps and Cancer
Your colon and rectum may develop tissue growths known as polyps. They can be benign, precancerous or malignant. Cancers that affect this region of the body include colon, small intestine and rectal cancer.
Symptoms: Polyps are often asymptomatic, but large ones may cause pain, bleeding or a change in the appearance of your stool. Like benign polyps, colon cancer may not cause any symptoms at first. As the disease progresses, you may experience pain, weakness, bleeding, fatigue or unusual changes to your stool.
Diagnosis: Doctors recommend beginning routine colonoscopy screenings around age 50. Polyps found during a screening can be biopsied to determine whether they are cancerous.
Treatment: Small polyps can be removed during a colonoscopy. Large polyps may require a more involved surgery. Some cases of cancer may require chemotherapy, radiation, medication or the removal of a section of intestine.
Learn more about colon cancer in this video:
Your intestine can develop small pouches called diverticula. They normally don't cause trouble, but some people experience inflammation or infection. That's a condition called diverticulitis.
Symptoms: Your abdomen might be painful or tender. You may experience nausea, vomiting, constipation or diarrhea.
Diagnosis: Your doctor may run lab tests or take a stool sample. Confirming a diagnosis of diverticulitis usually requires a CT scan.
Treatment: In some cases, eating a special diet for a few days and taking antibiotics can be enough to clear up diverticulitis. Severe cases might require bowel surgery.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
IBD includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. These chronic conditions involve inflammation in the colon or elsewhere in the digestive tract.
Symptoms: IBD can cause pain and chronic diarrhea, sometimes with blood. You may lose weight, feel fatigued or experience abdominal discomfort.
Diagnosis: Your doctor may use a variety of tests to diagnose IBD. You may need to provide a stool sample or undergo a colonoscopy. Other tests that may be used include a CT scans, X-rays and MRIs.
Treatment: Medication can help manage the symptoms of IBD. Surgery may be necessary as well.
These are some of the most common colorectal conditions, but it's not an exhaustive list. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above or have other health concerns, talk to your doctor about the cause. The sooner you identify a problem with your colorectal system, the sooner you can get started with treatment.
As with all medical issues, your physician is the ultimate source as to what procedure best fits your needs. Discuss all options and get a second opinion if you have any doubts. These articles are intended to be a source of general information only.