What Is Anal Dilation & When Is It Medically Necessary?

What Is Anal Dilation & When Is It Medically Necessary?

What Is Anal Dilation

As much as you want your colorectal system to work properly on its own, sometimes you need to lend it a helping hand. Your doctor may recommend anal dilation as a way to encourage your system to work the way that it's supposed to.

What is anal dilation? It's a practice that may help to maintain the size of your anal opening or to stretch it to a more appropriate size. Your doctor may suggest dilators as a way that you can contribute to your colorectal care at home.

What Is Anal Dilation?

Sometimes the anal opening is smaller than it should be. This can cause medical complications and can also be uncomfortable. Left unattended, the opening may tighten further.

Anal dilation involves sliding a special tool into the anus to hold it open. The process may also work to stretch the opening to a more normal size.

Dilation is done through a series of anal dilators of different sizes. These tools have cylindrical or tapered shapes. Dilatan dilators, for example, come in five different sizes. These plastic dilators have a rounded tip for smooth insertion, and they also have a disc-shaped base to hold on to during use.

Dilation can be done at home. You may be able to perform the procedure on yourself, or you may need to do it for a family member. Keep in mind, anal dilation should only be performed on a doctor's recommendation, and you should follow the schedule set forth by your medical team.

The rounded shape of a dilator helps the tool slide into the anal opening. After inserting a dilator, it should be left in place for about 30 seconds to stretch the tissue. There may be some resistance and discomfort, but using the correct size of dilator should prevent intense pain.

For most patients, this process will need to be repeated daily or multiple times a day over an extended period of time. As progress is made, your doctor may recommend that you slowly wean yourself off of the procedure by performing it less frequently. Eventually, you may be able to stop dilation altogether.

To stretch the opening, your doctor may recommend that you gradually increase the size of the dilator that you use. As one size becomes easy to slide into the anus, it should be replaced with a dilator with a larger diameter.

Anal Dilation During Colorectal Conditions

Anal dilation is sometimes recommended as a complement to treatments for various colorectal problems and diseases. Sometimes, widening the anus is recommended in order to help a patient pass waste material. Other times, it may be done in an attempt to relieve pressure on tissue that is affected by a medical condition.

Anal stricture or stenosis is when the anal passage is too tight. This is usually caused by scar tissue that forms in the area. It can develop as a post-surgical complication, or it may be the side effect of Crohn's disease or another chronic condition.

In the following video, you can hear about an irritable bowel disease patient's experience with a stricture:

A stricture can make it quite difficult for you to pass normal stools. This can lead to serious constipation and related problems. Anal dilation can help to widen the anus and rectum to their normal size so that waste can pass through normally.

In other colorectal conditions, a too-tight rectum might be aggravating the problem, so dilation could be recommended in an attempt to reduce the tightness. Widening the anus might help to reduce the pain that you experience as a symptom of your condition. These conditions can include:

  • Hemorrhoids.
  • Fissures.
  • Fistulae.

Anal Dilation After Colorectal Surgery

Dilation is often recommended as a follow-up practice after a surgical procedure. For example, after a surgery to remove hemorrhoids, you might develop an anal stricture, and dilation may help to reverse this narrowing.

In one study, of 704 patients who had hemorrhoids surgically removed, 27 experienced anal stricture afterward. 18 of those patients were able to use dilation as part of their stricture-reducing protocol. Dilation was performed in conjunction with taking stool softeners and applying an anesthetic at the site.

Anal dilation is particularly important after a corrective surgery to repair a malformation of the colorectal tract. This is often done in children who are born without an anus or whose anal opening is the wrong place.

The surgery creates a new opening through which waste can pass. Without proper aftercare, such as dilation, the body's natural healing process will try to close up this hole. Practicing regular anal dilation can hold this new passage open so that the surgical site can heal as intended by the doctors.

Over time, increasing the size of the dilators may stretch the tract to the appropriate size. When that happens, the affected person may be able to pass waste naturally instead of relying on a colostomy bag.

Although you may wish that caring for your colorectal system didn't require special tools or procedures, your doctor may suggest anal dilation as a way that you can help your body to do the job that it's supposed to do.

If you find yourself in that situation, you hopefully now have a clear answer to the question, "What is anal dilation?" and you're ready to follow your doctor's recommended care plan.

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.

Brian Chandler