Anus Definition, Parts, Diseases and Functions in Human Digestive System

The Human Anus

Some organs of the body act as a part of the two systems at the same time. One of them is the human anus. It is the part of the digestive as well as excretory systems.

Literally meaning ring or circle, the anus is present at the posterior most end of the alimentary canal. The primary job of anus is to regulate the discharge of waste and indigestible substances out of the body.

It can hold excretory materials from going out of the body till the time an individual finds an appropriate place for defecation.

Anus Definition - Anus Diagram

Fig. 1: The human anus diagram, also showing the nearby body parts.

Anus Definition

The Merriam Webster Dictionary gives different anus definition for the medical students and the English language learners. For medical students, it defines anus as:

"The posterior opening of the digestive tract".

For English language learners, on the other hand, it defines the anal opening as:

"The opening on the body present between the person’s buttocks through which the digestive waste passes from the body."

Wikipedia the Free Encyclopedia gives the definition of the anus in these words:

"The anus is an opening at the opposite end of an animal’s digestive tract from the mouth."

On the Dictionary.com, you will find a bit detailed definition:

"The human anus is an opening at the lower end of the alimentary canal for the excretion of the solid waste of the body."

Here is a bit more comprehensive anus definition:

"Playing an important regulatory role in the excretion of digestive wastes, the anal opening is surrounded by a voluntary and an involuntary sphincter, and constitutes the terminal part of the digestive system".

Two round muscular structures line the anus. These muscular structures assist in the opening and closing of the anal aperture.

Anus Definition Biology

The anus definition biology is specifically for the medical students. “The Online Medical Dictionary” provides the biological definition in these words:

"The lower opening of the digestive tract that is associated with the anal sphincter and lies in the cleft between the buttocks to help in the extrusion of the fecal matter."

So, here you also get a bit understanding of the structure and function of this organ of digestive system.

The opening and closing of the hole is under the voluntary control of an individual, particularly, the external sphincter. It is not completely functional in the human babies. However, as the child advances towards maturity, it comes under their deliberate command. On the attainment of puberty in an individual, pubis hair starts to grow around the anal opening.

Just imagine, "How would your social life be if you were unable to hold and prolong feces before you reach toilet for defecation?"

When you prolong defecation for a longer duration, the excretory matter goes backwards into colon. Here there is further absorption of fluids, salts and any other useful substances.

You will learn about the details of the things related to anus definition in the succeeding parts of the article.


Anus and Rectum

Anus and rectum are two terminal parts of the large intestine. Both these organs have different size, structure, function and location in the body.

As you have a look on the elementary canal diagram from anterior to the posterior, rectum forms the second last part and anus comes at the end. In other words, rectum is the concluding part of the digestive tract which ends at the anus.

Anus and Rectum

Fig. 2: Anus and Rectum diagram

Rectal region is a bit large in size as compared with the anus. The former measures in length from 10 to 15 cm, while the latter may extend only up to 5 centimeter. The rectum has the same diameter as that of the sigmoid colon.

The job of rectum is to store the waste products in preparation for their ultimate removal out of the body. The job of the anus, on the other hand, is to serve as an opening for the elimination of feces.

Anus Glands

The anus glands are present in the anal canal of different mammalian species including cats and dogs. They are also present in the humans.

John Aglitis, from the Department of Anatomy at the Ohio State University, published a paper in 1961 discussing about the presence and anatomy of the anus glands. By nature, they are the eccrine or exocrine glands.

The fluid, secreted by these glands, enters the anal canal via the anal ducts.

Anal Glands

Fig. 3: Anus Glands, also showing Enlarged Anal Sac

The wall of anal canal consists of different layers of muscles, blood vessels, lymph vessels and the sensitive nerve-endings. Anus glands are also present in this wall at varying lengths.

According to the findings of Eglitis, these glands are vestigial in man but still they have got great clinical significance. At the same time, regarding their size, form and number, they vary considerably among individuals.

The obstruction of anal ducts can lead to some serious health issues, such as the formation of anus abscesses and anus fistula.


Anus Function

How many functions does anus perform? Seemingly, there is just one anus function – an opening for defection. In fact, it can perform some other functions as well. As many as five different anus functions are listed here.

Did you ever imagine the consequences of accumulating the digestive wastes in the body for just a month? Surely, it will have dire consequences for your health and life.

Apart from excretion, the anus also has close association with sexuality. The knowledge of anal anatomy makes it easy for you to understand the anus function.

The following information will be very useful.

  • An Aperture for Defecation
  • The primary anus function is to serve as an aperture for defecation. After defecation, the colon and rectum prepare themselves to receive and store the digestive wastes descending along the alimentary canal.

  • Regulation of Excretory Process
  • The internal and external sphincters play a key role in the regulation of excretory process. The internal involuntary sphincter operates under the command of autonomous nervous system. You can deliberately open or forcefully contract the external sphincter.

  • Voluntary Control over Feces Removal
  • Holding feces back for a certain duration is a very important anus function. Otherwise, you won’t be able to hold the bowels for some time in order to reach the place of defecation.

  • Triggering Need for Removal of Feces
  • The capacity of rectal storage and sensation of waste products arriving in the region inspire the need for their removal. Consequently, you feel the desire to defecate and move to a suitable place.

  • Sexual Arousal
  • Though not a reproductive organ, anus has to do something with sexuality. There is a high concentration of the nerve endings in the anal region. These nerve endings can play a role in sexual arousal.

Role in sexuality is a secondary anus function. It happens so due to proximity of anus with the sensitive parts of male and female genitals.


Anus Diagram and Steps for Excretion

Looking at the anus diagram, you can easily understand various steps for excretion. Different nearby parts of anus experience physical changes as waste matter reaches there. Here is a brief discussion of the 5-step procedure for excretion.

Anus Diagram

Fig. 4: Anus Diagram showing different parts of anal canal.

  • First Step
  • After digestion in the stomach and the small intestine, the small food particles are taken into the blood stream for use in the body. On the other hand, the undigested material descends to the large intestine for further absorption of left over water and salts.

    After that, the taste materials reach the rectal region. It is the first step in the process of defecation.

  • Second Step
  • In the second step, the waste, semi-solid substances fill the rectum and anal canal. Therefore, the surrounding walls stretch to accommodate it.

  • Third Step
  • The nerve endings present at the rectal region deliver the stimulus to the brain. The brain processes this stimulus to generate an appropriate response.

  • Fourth Step
  • In the fourth step of the process of defecation, the responding signal reaches the target place. It induces the desire for defecation in the individual. Afterwards, the individual takes appropriate action accordingly.

  • Fifth Step
  • The fifth and final step involves the relaxation of the internal and external anal sphincters. The internal sphincter opens through an involuntary action while the external one is under the voluntary control of the individual.


Anus Anatomy

Can you distinguish between nine different anus parts? Here is useful information related to anus anatomy. Two layers of muscles surround this ring-shaped structure. They form the internal anal sphincter and external anal sphincter.

However, both of them are not under your deliberate command. That is, the interior sphincter tightens or relaxes under the involuntary action while the voluntary actions control the external one.

The sphincters vary in their length while running along the anal canal. The internal muscle extends up to 4 centimeters and the external one reaches the maximum size of 10 centimeter or more.

The outer muscular layer retracts during the process of defecation. Further, it has two strata, namely, deeper stratum and the superficial one (the main portion).

Here follows a brief description of different parts of anus structure, starting from the anorectal ring and ending at the anal orifice.

  • Anorectal Ring
  • Where does the anal region start? What marks the end of rectum and the start of the anal canal?

    Anorectal Ring Anorectal Junction

    Fig. 5: Anorectal Ring – The junction between anus and rectum.

    Obviously, it is the anorectal ring or the anorectal flexure which serves as a demarcation between the rectum and the anal region.

  • Anal Canal
  • The anal canal is a small terminal part of the large intestine that starts from the rectum and continues till the anal orifice. It ranges from 3 to 5 centimeters in length.

    Anal Canal

    Fig. 6: Anus Canal Diagram.

  • Longitudinal Folds or Anal Columns
  • Anal Columns

    Fig. 7: Anal Columns (formerly Rectal Columns)

    The anal canal can be divided into the upper part, lower potion and the anal opening. In the upper part, you will come across the longitudinal folds. They are also called the anal columns or rectal columns. There are 5 to 10 rectal columns in the upper part.

    The infolding of the mucous membrane and some of the muscular tissues in the anal canal results in the formation of vertical ridges, called anal columns. The description of these columns is found in Gray’s Anatomy (1918).

  • Blood Vessels
  • Lots of blood vessels surround the anal canal to supply oxygenated blood to this organ. In the upper part of anal canal, each rectal column contains a small artery and vein.

    Blood Vessels of the Anal Canal

    Fig. 8: Blood Vessels in Anorectal Area

  • Nerve Endings
  • Sensitive nerve endings are present in the anal region. As the waste products enter this region, the nerves take signal to the brain for the generation of an appropriate response.

  • Anus Glands
  • Anus glands are exocrine in nature and are present at varying lengths in the wall of anal canal. They empty secretions into the lumen of the anal canal through the anal ducts.

    Anal Glands

    Fig. 9: Location of Anus Glands in the Anal Canal

  • Anal Ducts
  • Anal ducts are present in the wall of the anal canal. The job of these ducts is to empty the secretions of anus glands into the lumen of the canal.

    Anal Ducts

    Fig. 10: Anal Ducts in the wall of Anal Canal

  • Anus Sphincter Muscles
  • A sphincter muscle can also be called an anus ring as it forms a ring-like structure around the anal orifice. There are two sphincter muscles: internal anal sphincter and external anal sphincter.

    Anal Sphincters

    Fig. 11: Internal Anal Sphincter and External Anal Sphincter

    The internal sphincter acts involuntarily to regulate the bowel movements. On the other hand, the external sphincter is under the voluntary control of the individual.

  • Anal Valves
  • The anal valves are small circular folds of the mucous membrane that join the lower portions of the anal columns. Small hollow spaces are available between these valves which lead to lymph ducts and the glands.

Anal Valves

Fig. 12: Anal Valves


Anus Diseases

Anus Disease

Fig. 13: Different Anal Disorders

An anal disease can seriously affect the regulation of the process of excretion. The researchers have discovered various conditions of anal canal and anus orifice. The anus diseases also affect the anal glands, muscles and sphincters.

Such disorders not only disturb the excretory function of your digestive system, but are also the cause of great embarrassment for the victim in social life.

Some of the disorders are infectious. The others may be viral or cancerous. Still there are some that arise due to mechanical reasons. Some of the most frequently occurring ailments of excretory orifice include anal abscesses, anus fistula, hemorrhoids, anal fissures, and so on.

The diagnostic symptoms of the acute and chronic conditions of anus may include pain, anal itching, intense sensation of burning, bleeding, cramps, anus inflammation, bowel obstruction, release of pus, chills, fever, and so on.

The suggestion and application of treatment strategy depends upon the type and severity of the condition and may involve medication, diet supplementation, or surgical removal of the infected part. However, if you take preventive measures in advance and, in case of attack of the disease, consult your health care provider immediately, you can save your life from all such hassles.

Here is a brief description of seven different anus diseases with their symptoms and treatments.

  • Anal Abscesses
  • The condition of anal abscesses refers to the development of pus near the anus. Mostly, there is a perianal abscess, appearing as a bile-like swelling around the anus. It is warm to touch and red in appearance.

    Anal Abscesses

    Fig. 14: Different Locations of Anal Abscesses

    An anal abscess can be very painful and may require surgery for its treatment. The causes include blockage of the anal gland or a sexually transmitted infection.

    • Anal Abscesses Symptoms
    • The frequently occurring symptoms include:

      • Development and drainage of pus near the anus.
      • Anus pain usually radiating to buttocks.
      • Anal itching.
      • Formation of lump in the anal area.
      • Sensation of anus pain during bowel movements.
      • Fever and fatigue.

    • Treatment
    • In most of the cases, a surgical method is recommended for the drainage and removal of anal abscesses. For the drainage of pus, the surgeons make an incision near the anus. In case of delay in the treatment, it may lead to fistula formation.

      For the treatment of fistula, again there is the need of surgical operation. After the surgery, your healthcare provider may prescribe some medications for pain relief. However, the people with diabetes or an immunity disorder may also need the use of antibiotics.

  • Anal Fistula
  • An anal fistula is a small tunnel in the anal region that develops an abnormal connection between the skin and the site of an abscess. It is a painful condition and can lead to bleeding during the passage of stools.

    Anal Fistula

    Fig. 15: Fistula Formation in the Human Anus

    Fistula formation may occur as a complication of the anal abscess. It may cause persistent drainage or result in the recurrent anal abscesses. Surgery is the only successful treatment measure for fistula.

    • Anal Fistula Symptoms
    • The possible symptoms for anal fistula include:

      • Constant anus pain which becomes worse on sitting down.
      • Swelling, redness and feeling of tenderness around the anus.
      • Anal itching and irritation.
      • Drainage of pus and anus bleeding.
      • Fever and constipation.
      • Painful bowel movements.

    • Treatment
    • There are usually very rare cases when the condition of anal fistula is healed without a proper treatment. Here, the viable option is that of surgery. However, to determine the best therapy, the doctors need to find out the position of the fistula.

      They also need to examine if the fistula is a single channel or branches off in different directions. Usually a general anesthetic is used to carry out surgery and the patient is discharged from the hospital within a day.

      Did you ever think why is surgery a better option for fistula treatment? It is because surgical therapy can heal the condition without inflicting a damage to the sphincter muscles.

      A damage to the sphincter muscles, on the other hand, can result in the loss of bowel control.

  • Anal Fissures
  • A shallow tear or ulceration in the tissues along the wall of anal canal is given the name of anal fissure. In addition to irritation in the region, an anal fissure can also trigger a spasm in the anal sphincter. The spasms are very painful and may involve anus bleeding.

    Anal Fissures

    Fig. 16: Anal Fissures

    The passage of large, hard stools and a secondary complication of anal surgery may be the causes of development of anal fissures. Meanwhile, constipation, repeated use of enema nozzles and multiple pregnancies increase the risk for the onset of this condition.

    • Anal Fissures Symptoms
    • The commonly occurring mild and painful symptoms of the condition include:

      • Sensation of sharp pain.
      • Anus burning during or immediately after the bowel movements.
      • Blood in stools.
      • Rectal itching and irritation.
      • Painful spasms in the anal sphincter.

    • Treatment
    • You can prevent any anal disorders by taking a high-fiber diet, maintaining good hygiene in the anal area and drinking plenty of liquids. However, in case of becoming an unfortunate victim of anal fissures, initially you should wait for some days for the natural healing of the condition.

      In case the condition persists, your healthcare provider may advise stool softeners to ease and smoothen the bowel movements. To relieve spasms, nitroglycerin ointment is considered effective.

      For treating chronic anal fissures, doctors may prescribe local injections of borox. If the anal fissures become persistent or recurrent, the patients may need to go for surgical removal.

  • Anus Cancer
  • Several different types of tumors can grow in the anal region. Some of the anus tumors are benign while others are linked with anus cancer. However, sometimes a benign anus tumor may become cancer at the later stage.

    Anal Cancer

    Fig. 17: Anal Cancer

    Do you know what cancer is in the literal sense? In biology, cancer refers to the uncontrolled growth of cells in any part of the body. Cancer cells crowd out the normal cells and can also spread to other organs of the body.

    The chances of anal cancer increase with advancing age. According to a research, more than 80% of the cases are of those people with the age above 60. Meanwhile, as compared to the married men, the rate of anus cancer is six times higher in the single men.

    An anus infection with human papillomavirus and diseases of immune system, such as AIDS, makes people prone to anal cancer.

    • Anal Cancer Symptoms
    • Listed below are some of the symptoms of the anus cancer:

      • Irregularity in the bowel habits.
      • Appearance of a hard mass or lump near the anus.
      • Unusual discharge of liquid from the anal orifice.
      • Severe pain in the affected area.
      • Sensation of pressure in the anal region.

    • Treatment
    • Digital rectal exam, anoscopy and endorectal ultrasound can help in the diagnosis of the condition. Afterwards, biopsy will lead to the confirmation of the disease.

      For the treatment of anal cancer, doctors use chemotherapy and radiation in combination. Such a treatment measure has been in vogue since 1974. If this therapy does not show positive results, the doctors need to utilize the option of surgery.

  • Hemorrhoids/Piles – One of The Painful Anus Diseases
  • It is one of the very painful anus diseases. The presence of distended varicose veins in the anal region characterizes the condition of hemorrhoids or piles.

    The valves in the veins permit only unidirectional flow of blood – back to the heart. However, the weakening of these valves may result in the flow of blood towards wrong direction or its stagnation in veins.

    Anal Piles

    Fig. 18: Anal Piles

    In case of hemorrhoids, there occurs engorging of veins with blood in the anus. Though initially painless, the fragile walls of swollen vein may rupture and result in bleeding with stool. Clot formation in the vessels is very painful and may require surgical removal.

    • Piles Symptoms
      • Bowel movements cause bleeding.
      • Appearance of bright red blood on stool, toilet paper or toilet bowl.
      • Itching in the anus.
      • Painful bowel movements.
      • Mucus coming from the anus.

    • Treatment
    • To recommend an appropriate treatment measure, your healthcare provider needs to conduct rectal exam. However, colonoscopy and some other tests to determine the cause of the disease.

      You can treat the anus hemorrhoids through the use of over-the-counter products and changes in the lifestyle. However, it is better to consult a doctor before using any medicine or ointment.

      Use of high-fiber diet is very helpful in treating the condition. You should also consume plenty of water on daily basis. The option of surgery is also there to remove the swollen veins from the region.

  • Anal Warts
  • Anus warts is a viral disorder and also has another name, ‘condyloma acuminata’. In the beginning, it affects the area inside or around anus and then spreads to genital parts. A wart initially appears as small as the head of a pin. However, the warts may grow much larger to cover the entire anal area.

    Anal Warts

    Fig. 19: Anal Warts

    Early stages cause no symptoms. But the advanced stages can give rise to bleeding, itching and discharge of mucus with stools. The causative agent is Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) that an affected individual may communicate to others through sexual contact. However, it may be transmitted without having anal intercourse.

    If there is delay in the diagnosis and start of treatment, it is likely to worsen to become anal cancer. The available curative measures include the application of topical medication. However, depending upon the severity of the condition, your health care provider may also recommend the use of liquid nitrogen to freeze the warts or remove them through surgical therapy.

    • Anal Warts Symptoms
      • Appearance of tiny spots or growths inside and around anal opening.
      • Itching in the affected area.
      • Bleeding with stools.
      • Discharge of mucus.
      • Feeling of a mass in anus.
      • Tiny growths may become much larger with the passage of time.

    • Treatment
    • The timely treatment of anus warts is necessary because they can grow larger and multiply. Also persistent warts can increase the risk of anus cancer. Different topical medications are available in the market which can freeze or burn the anus warts or heal them slowly.

      In case, topical medications do not work the patients need to undergo surgery. It involves the surgical removal of warts. Here the choice of anesthesia depends on the number and location of the warts that are to be removed. If there is a large number of warts, the surgery may be performed in stages.

  • Pruritus Ani
  • Affecting men more commonly than women with a 4:1 ratio, pruritus ani is a common medical problem of anus. From 1% to 5% of individuals in the general population may be suffering from this condition.

    Literally meaning "itchy anus", it gives rise to a discomforting sensation in the rectal opening, thus triggering a desire in the victim to scratch the affected region.

    The injury of skin due to scratching makes irritation more intense and widespread. Scratching also induces the desire to scratch even more.

    Depending on severity of the condition, pruritus ani can be classified into primary and secondary forms. Referred to as idiopathic, the primary form may appear without an identifiable cause, while in the secondary case, the cause is identifiable and treatable.

    Because of the unknown causative agent in the majority of the cases, the treatment is not easy.

    Taking fibrous foods and use of bowel medications is useful for the thickening and complete evacuation of stool. Maintaining hygiene is very necessary. The administration of antibiotics can cure infections. Meanwhile, hair dryer can be helpful to keep the skin dry.

    • Pruritus Ani Symptoms
      • Unpleasant sensation around rectal opening, arousing desire in the victim to scratch.
      • Development of red spots.
      • Leakage of mucus with stools.
      • Loose stools.
      • Injury resulting from scratching.
      • Cracks, wounds and thickening of skin.

    • Treatment
    • The first step to relieve the symptoms of pruritus ani is to avoid the contact of anus with heat, wool, moisture and pressure. On the other hand, to suggest an appropriate treatment measure, your doctor needs to discover the underlying cause. The causes include different skin conditions, such as psoriasis, eczema, lichen sclerosis, allergic dermatitis, and so on.

      For treatment, different topical medications, such as steroid and antifungal creams, may be very effective. Meanwhile, your healthcare provider may prescribe certain antibiotics to treat infection of the anus, if any.


Frequently Asked Questions about Anus Diseases

  • What are anus worms?
  • Answer: Anus worms are the worms that reside in the anal region and cause anus itching. By nature, these are usually the pinworms. The female members of the pinworms lay eggs in the folds of the skin in and around the anus.

  • How can anus inflammation be treated?
  • Answer: Prior to treating anus inflammation, you need to find out the underlying cause. In most of the cases, the anus swelling occurs due to different anus diseases. Depending on the underlying cause, medication or surgery is used to treat the condition.

  • Do you know the causes of anal cramps?
  • Answer: Anus cramps or spams may result from the straining of the anal canal due to bowel movements. Different anus conditions, like hemorrhoids, anus fistula and anus fissure usually involve anus cramps. So, to relieve such a symptom, you need to cure the underlying cause.

  • How dangerous are the anus tumors?
  • Answer: Among various type of anus tumor, some are benign and others are cancerous. Obviously, the later type is more dangerous. Anus cancer can spread to other parts as well and lead to fatal consequences.


References

  • Merriam Webster Dictionary, Anus [1]
  • Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia, Anus [2], Human Anus [6], Internal Anal Sphincter [7], External Anal Sphincter [8]
  • Dictionary.com, Anus [3]
  • Medical Dictionary – The Free Dictionary, Anus [4]
  • Pet Place, Do Humans Have Anal Glands? [5]
  • Medscape, Anal Canal Anatomy [9]
  • Encyclopedia Britannica, Anal Canal Anatomy [10]
  • Siddiqi, L. H. (2011) Medical Histology, 5th Edition, Paramount Publishing Enterprise, www.paramountbooks.com.pk
  • The Johns Hopkins Complete Guide to Symptoms and Remedies (2004), published by Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.

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