Anal Skin Tags

Anal skin tags are caused by swelling in the anal area.  The swelling causes the skin to stretch.  After the swelling goes down, the excess skin remains.  This excess skin forms anal skin tags.  Anal skin tags are generally benign but can cause discomfort.  For this reason, they are generally removed.

#1 Causes of anal skin tags

  • Anal skin tags require some kind of swelling in the anal area to form.  Common precursors to anal skin tags are:
  • Bowel conditions (both constipation and diarrhoea)
  • Strenuous exercise/heavy lifting
  • Pregnancy
  • Haemorrhoids and blood clots
  • Crohn’s disease (and other inflammatory conditions)

#2 Haemorrhoids vs anal skin tags

Anal skin tags are best thought of as flappy bits of excess skin. They don’t tend to be harmful and don’t usually bleed unless caught. They’re simply annoying and can feel unclean.

Haemorrhoids are different, as they are due to swollen veins.  They can develop within the anus or rectum (internal haemorrhoids).  It is, however, far more common for them to develop outside of the anus (external haemorrhoids).

The main causes of haemorrhoids are largely the same as the causes of anal skin tags.  Age, weight and genetics are also potential contributory factors.  Likewise, the symptoms of external haemorrhoids are also very similar to the symptoms of anal skin tags.  

The main symptoms of external haemorrhoids are itchiness, sensitivity/pain and lumps around the anal area.  External haemorrhoids may also lead to blood clotting.  Internal haemorrhoids can cause bleeding and may lead to your skin coming out of your anus when you need to pass a stool.  Internal haemorrhoids can also prolapse (extend outside the anus).

Both external and internal haemorrhoids create swelling.  As this subsides, anal skin tags may form, so often the conditions are inter-linked.  This can lead to a person having haemorrhoids and anal skin tags at the same time. Sometimes new haemorrhoids may form after old ones subside. 

#3 Diagnosing anal skin tags

As a patient, you should be alert to the signals you receive from your body.  You should always contact your doctor if you notice anything of concern.  Bleeding, pain, sensitivity, itchiness and discomfort are all causes for concern so you should contact your doctor if you notice any of them.

There is a strong chance that your doctor will be able to diagnose your condition with a visual examination and/or a physical examination.  You will need to remove your underwear for this so you might want to wear a long top to cover yourself as much as possible.

Your doctor may choose to use further tests such as a protoscopy. Other potential forms of assessment include anoscopy, sigmoidoscopy and/or colonoscopy and/or take a biopsy (tissue sample) for testing.  Their decision will depend on various factors such as whether or not they consider you to be at high risk for other conditions such as cancer.

For completeness, the symptoms of anal skin tags and haemorrhoids can also be symptoms of other, more serious conditions.  This is, however, very rare.  In any case, it’s important to get them checked by a doctor as soon as possible.  You need a proper (i.e. professional) diagnosis and a treatment plan.

#4 Treating anal skin tags

In general, anal skin tags can be removed at a doctor’s surgery (as opposed to a hospital).  Usually, the doctor will use a numbing agent and possibly give you a sedative.  They will then cut out the anal skin tags and seal up any incisions, often with soluble stitches.  Some doctors will use a laser or liquid nitrogen instead of a scalpel.

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