Perianal findings in prepubertal children selected for nonabuse: a descriptive study

Child Abuse Negl. 1989;13(2):179-93. doi: 10.1016/0145-2134(89)90005-7.


The results of the perianal portion of a project designed to collect normative data of the anogenital anatomy from a representative sample of prepubertal children is presented. A total of 318 children were examined by three physicians from a child sexual abuse evaluation program. After screening for the onset of puberty and the possibility of undetected abuse, 267 subjects remained. The sample included 161 girls and 106 boys ranging in age from 2 months to 11 years. The perianal findings that were encountered with the greatest frequency included erythema (41%), increased pigmentation (30%), and venous engorgement (52%) after two minutes in the knee-chest position. Wedge-shaped smooth areas in the midline, with or without depressions, were found both anterior and posterior to the anus in 26% of the children. Anal skin tags/folds were discovered anterior to the anus in 11%. In 49% of the children there was some dilatation of the anus which opened and closed intermittently in 62%. Flattening of the anal verge and rugae occurred during dilatation by the midpoint of the examination in 44% and 34%, respectively. Perianal findings that were found infrequently in all subgroups included skin tags/folds (0%) and scars (1%) outside the midline, anal dilatation greater than 20 mm without the presence of stool in the rectal ampulla (1.2%), irregularity of the anal orifice after complete dilatation (3%), and prominence of the anal verge (3%). No abrasions, hematomas, fissures, or hemorrhoids were encountered. Less commonly detected findings within specific subgroups included perianal erythema in girls (32%) as compared to boys (57%), pigmentation in the lighter skinned white children (22%) when compared to black (53%) and Hispanic (58%) children, and venous congestion at the beginning of the examination (7%) when compared to the same findings after four minutes in the knee-chest position (73%). There were no perianal skin tags/folds found in the boys. The relatively high incidence of perianal soft tissue changes that were found in this study, when compared to the frequency of similar observations in children suspected of having been sexually abused, reemphasizes the caution medical examiners must exercise in rendering an opinion as to the significance of medical findings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anal Canal / injuries*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / diagnosis*
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Child, Preschool
  • Colposcopy
  • Expert Testimony / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Perineum / injuries*
  • Physical Examination / methods*
  • Reference Values