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Anorectal Abscess


Parswa Ansari

, MD, Hofstra Northwell-Lenox Hill Hospital, New York

Reviewed/Revised Jan 2023

An anorectal abscess is a localized collection of pus in the perirectal spaces. Abscesses usually originate in an anal crypt. Symptoms are pain and swelling. Diagnosis is primarily by examination and CT or pelvic MRI for deeper abscesses. Treatment is surgical drainage.

An abscess may be located in various spaces surrounding the rectum and may be superficial or deep.

A perianal abscess is superficial and points to the skin.

An ischiorectal abscess is deeper, extending across the sphincter into the ischiorectal space below the levator ani; it may penetrate to the contralateral side, forming a “horseshoe” abscess. An abscess above the levator ani (ie, supralevator abscess) is quite deep and may extend to the peritoneum or abdominal organs; this abscess often results from diverticulitis Colonic Diverticulitis Diverticulitis is inflammation with or without infection of a diverticulum, which can result in phlegmon of the bowel wall, peritonitis, perforation, fistula, or abscess. The primary symptom... read more Colonic Diverticulitis or pelvic inflammatory disease Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a polymicrobial infection of the upper female genital tract: the cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries; abscess may occur. PID may be caused by sexually... read more .

Most anorectal abscesses are mixed infections, with Escherichia coli, Proteus vulgaris, Bacteroides, streptococci, and staphylococci predominating.

Symptoms and Signs of Anorectal Abscess

Superficial abscesses can be very painful; perianal swelling, redness, and tenderness are characteristic. Fever is rare.

Deeper abscesses may be less painful but cause toxic symptoms (eg, fever, chills, malaise). There may be no perianal findings, but digital rectal examination may reveal a tender, fluctuant swelling of the rectal wall. High pelvirectal abscesses may cause lower abdominal pain and fever without rectal symptoms. Sometimes fever is the only symptom.

Diagnosis of Anorectal Abscess

  • Clinical evaluation

  • Sometimes examination under anesthesia or rarely CT

Patients who have a pointing cutaneous abscess, a normal digital rectal examination, and no signs of systemic illness do not require imaging.

CT scan is useful when a deep abscess or Crohn disease are suspected. Higher (supralevator) abscesses require CT to determine the intra-abdominal source of the infection. Pelvic MRI and endoscopic ultrasonography are alternative imaging studies.

Treatment of Anorectal Abscess

  • Incision and drainage

  • Antibiotics for high-risk patients

(See also the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons' 2016 clinical practice guideline for the management of anorectal abscess, fistula-in-ano, and rectovaginal fistula.)

Prompt incision and adequate drainage are required and should not wait until the abscess points. Many abscesses can be drained as an in-office procedure; deeper abscesses may require drainage in the operating room.

Patients with fever, immunocompromise, or diabetes and those with marked cellulitis should also receive antibiotics (eg, ciprofloxacin 500 mg IV every 12 hours and metronidazole 500 mg IV every 8 hours, ampicillin/sulbactam 1.5 g IV every 8 hours).

Patients with absolute neutropenia (< 1000/mcL [1 × 109/L]) should be treated with antibiotics alone.

Antibiotics are not indicated for healthy patients with superficial abscesses.

Key Points

  • Anorectal abscesses may be superficial or deep.

  • Superficial abscesses may be diagnosed clinically and drained in the office or emergency department.

  • Deep abscesses often require imaging with CT scan and typically must be drained in the operating room.

  • Patients with fever, immunocompromise, or diabetes and those with extensive cellulitis should receive antibiotics.

More Information

The following English-language resource may be useful. Please note that THE MANUAL is not responsible for the content of this resource.

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Drug Name Select Trade
Cetraxal , Ciloxan, Cipro, Cipro XR, OTIPRIO, Proquin XR
Flagyl, Flagyl ER, Flagyl RTU, LIKMEZ, MetroCream, MetroGel, MetroGel Vaginal, MetroLotion, Noritate, NUVESSA, Nydamax, Rosadan, Rozex, Vandazole, Vitazol
NOTE: This is the Professional Version. CONSUMERS: View Consumer Version
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