Fistulas (2024)

Fistula Disorders at a Glance

  • A fistula is a connection or hole that forms between two organs
  • In women, a fistula can occur as a result of prolonged childbirth, connecting the bladder and vagin*, or the rectum and vagin*
  • Fistulas can form when the blood supply to the tissue is cut off, causing the tissue to disintegrate
  • With vesicovagin*l fistulas (a connection between the bladder and vagin*), uncontrolled urinary incontinence is a likely symptom
  • With rectovagin*l fistulas (a connection between the rectum and vagin*), uncontrolled fecal incontinence through the vagin* is a likely symptom
  • Fistulas are preventable and treatable

What are fistulas?

A fistula is an abnormal connection via a tunnel-like hole between two organs or vessels. Fistulas can occur in various parts of the body. In women, fistulas involving the genital and urinary tracts are the most common and happen due to prolonged or obstructed childbirth, injury during pelvic surgery, infection, inflammation, or radiation treatment in the pelvis or genital area.

The most common fistulae in women is one that occurs between the bladder and vagin* (known as a vesicovagin*l fistula) and one that occurs between the rectum and vagin* (known as a rectovagin*l fistula). A vesicovagin*l fistula is usually associated with urinary incontinence, or leakage of urine into the vagin* which can be quite severe. A rectovagin*l fistula can lead to fecal incontinence or leakage of feces into the vagin*.

Fistulas can also involve other genital organs:

  • Cervical (either an abnormal opening into the cervix or in the neck)
  • Enterovagin*l (between the bowel and vagin*)
  • Metroperitoneal (between the uterus and peritoneal cavity)
  • Recto-uterine (between the uterus and bowel)
  • Vesico-uterine (between the uterus and bladder)
  • Ureterovagin*l fistulas (between the ureter and vagin*)
  • Anal fistula (a small tunnel with an internal opening in the anal canal and an external opening in the skin near the anus)

What are the causes of fistulas?

The most common cause of a connection between the vagin* and the bladder in the United States is injury to the bladder during pelvic surgery, particularly hysterectomy. While the symptom may occur immediately after surgery, something they cab be delayed for 1-2 weeks. Rectovagin*l fistula can occur after childbirth associated with a large vagin*l tear.

In developing countries, fistula are most commonly associated with prolonged labor. The World Health Organization has called fistulas "the single most dramatic aftermath of prolonged or neglected childbirth,"" estimating that more than 2 million women live with fistulas worldwide. In the developing world, the problem arises during prolonged labor (lasting up to three to five days), with the unborn child pressing against the mother's birth canal very tightly, cutting off blood flow to the tissues between the vagin* and rectum and/or bladder. This causes the tissues to disintegrate and rot away, allowing an opening to form.

Urogenital and colorectal fistulas can also be caused by abortions; pelvic fractures; cancer or radiation therapy targeted at the pelvic area; abscess of the glands near the rectum; inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn's Disease and ulcerative colitis; and infected episiotomies after childbirth. Sexual abuse and rape can also be a factor.

What are the symptoms of fistulas?

A vesicovagin*l fistula, or a leak between the bladder and vagin*, can be painless but will cause uncomfortable incontinence problems that cannot be controlled as urine continuously dribbles into the vagin* upon entering the bladder.

The genital area may also become sore or infected and there may be pain during intercourse.

Women with a rectovagin*l fistula, or a leak between the rectum and vagin*, may include the passage of foul-smelling gas, stool or pus from the vagin*, as well as pain during intercourse.

Other symptoms common to both vagin*l fistulas and rectovagin*l fistulas include:

  • Frequent infections
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

What are the treatment options of fistulas?

Proper medical care makes fistulas both treatable and preventable.

Your doctor will want to talk about the symptoms and what may have caused them. As part of a physical exam, the doctor may check for a urinary tract infection, conduct blood tests and use a dye to locate all areas of leakage. An X-ray or scope may also be used to get a clear look and check for all possible tissue damage.

Fistulas generally do not heal on their own. Some small vesicovagin*l fistulas that are detected early may be treated by placing a catheter in the bladder for a period of time. However, the treatment for most fistulas is surgical repair.

Most often vesicovagin*l fistula can be repair by a minimally invasive vagin*l approach. In some cases a minimally invasive laparoscopic or robotic or open surgical approach maybe preferred.

During surgery, the doctor will check the damaged area for cellulitis, edema or infection, while also removing any scar tissue and ensuring proper blood supply. After surgery, antibiotics or other medications may be prescribed.

If you have been diagnosed with fistulas or are experiencing symptoms associated with fistulas, contact us to request an appointment with one of our urogynecologists to learn more about your treatment options.

Fistulas (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Msgr. Refugio Daniel

Last Updated:

Views: 5456

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (74 voted)

Reviews: 81% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Msgr. Refugio Daniel

Birthday: 1999-09-15

Address: 8416 Beatty Center, Derekfort, VA 72092-0500

Phone: +6838967160603

Job: Mining Executive

Hobby: Woodworking, Knitting, Fishing, Coffee roasting, Kayaking, Horseback riding, Kite flying

Introduction: My name is Msgr. Refugio Daniel, I am a fine, precious, encouraging, calm, glamorous, vivacious, friendly person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.