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Pruritus ani means a chronic (persistent) itchy feeling around the anus. It is commonly know as itchy bottom or itchy bum. The main symptom is an irresistible urge to scratch the anus or bottom. The urge to scratch may occur at any time, but most often happens after a bowel movement or at night (particularly just before falling asleep). The itch may be made worse by heat, wool, moisture, leaking, soiling, stress and anxiety.
Persistent scratching of the anal skin can damage the skin and make it more likely to develop a skin infection, that will give rise to pain and increased irritation. Chronic itching of the anal area may lead to feelings of embarrassment and both your mood and sleep can be affected.
Several factors may be at fault although frequently, no specific cause can be found. Common factors that may lead to pruritus ani include the following
Cleanliness is occasionally a factor. However, the natural tendency once a person develops the itching is to wash the area vigorously and frequently with soap and a wash cloth. This almost always makes the problem worse by damaging the skin and washing away protective natural oils, leading to a vicious circle. For example, if a person develops a mild anal itch, they may tend to wash the area more frequently. They may also use medicated wipes in the mistaken belief that these will help. Excessive washing leads to an increase in moisture and many soaps and wipes contain perfumes and additives that sensitise the skin, causing the itch to become worse. This leads to even more washing and the cycle gets worse, rather than better.
Another example of a vicious circle is when a person buys an ointment for an anal condition such as piles. These haemorrhoid creams often contain a local anaesthetic agent that initially numbs & soothes the itch. However, the skin can become sensitised to these ingredients very quickly leading to further itch and irritation. The tendency is to put on even more cream to help the worsening itch, which only leads to a further deterioration in symptoms. Most creams and ointments do not sensitise the skin in most people. However, be aware that there are many preparations with various ingredients and you may become sensitive to one of them.
A careful examination by your doctor may identify a definite cause for the itching. Your doctor may recommend treatment to eliminate the specific problem. Treatment of pruritus ani may include these four points.
If a cause for pruritus ani can be identified, it is easier to treat and relieve your symptoms. Most people start to experience relief from itching within a week, but it may take several weeks to obtain complete relief. Remember, recurrences are common and to be expected. Don’t become despondent over this; just be sure to reconsult your doctor so that appropriate corrections in treatment can be made.
The above measures will usually stop the itch. If symptoms persist for three or four weeks after doing the above, then your doctor may refer you to a specialist. This may be a skin specialist (a dermatologist) or a colorectal surgeon (who specialises in problems affecting the colon and anus). Tests may be needed to make sure a known cause has not been missed.
Yes. Glasgow Colorectal Centre surgeons Richard Molloy and Graham MacKay are both experienced in the assessment and management of patients with pruritus ani. They will be able to perform an assessment and will also be able to exclude bowel problems such as an anal fissure or haemorrhoids. If problems such as haemorrhoids are felt to be causing the problem, they will be able to recommend an appropriate management plan.
If you have any questions about pruritus ani or other colorectal issues, your own GP is often the best first port of call.
If appropriate, they will be able to arrange a referral to a colorectal specialist centre such as the Glasgow Colorectal Centre.