Table of Contents:

  1. What is a fistula?
  2. Types of fistula
  3. What are its causes?
  4. Treatment

What is a fistula?

A fistula occurs when a connection forms between one organ and another structure, and usually develops when an organ becomes inflamed or damaged. Fistulas are very common in people with Crohn’s disease, which is an inflammatory bowel disease, about 35% of people with Crohn’s disease have at least one fistula.

Fistulas are usually the result of injury or surgery, although infections or inflammation can also cause a fistula to form.

What are the different types of fistulas?

Fistulas can occur in many places in the body, but most commonly around the anus. These types of fistulas are called perianal fistulas. Another common type of fistula is one that develops between loops of intestine.

Fistulas can form between:

  • An artery and a vein
  • Bile ducts and the surface of the skin (from surgery on the gallbladder)
  • Cervix and vagina
  • The neck and throat
  • The intracranial space and a paranasal sinus
  • Intestines and vagina
  • Colon and the surface of the body
  • Stomach and skin surface
  • Uterus and peritoneal cavity
  • An artery and a vein in the lungs
  • Belly button and intestines

Types of fistulas include:

  • Blind: are those that are only open at one end, but connect two structures.
  • Complete: have openings inside and outside the body.
  • Horseshoe: connect the anus to the surface of the skin.
  • Incomplete: these are fistulas that do not connect to any internal structure.
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What are the causes for the appearance of a fistula?

Fistulas can develop in several ways, depending on the type of fistula and its location. Anal fistulas most often form because of an anal abscess. If the abscess has not healed properly it can lead to the development of a fistula. It is estimated that 50% of people who have an anal abscess may develop a fistula.

A fistula occurs when a connection forms between an organ and a structure.

Fistulas that form in the digestive tract may have developed after surgery, after radiation therapy for cancer or from a traumatic injury.

Certain diseases such as STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and diverticulitis can also cause fistulas. Some fistulas such as tracheoesophageal fistula (TEF) can develop in a baby during pregnancy.

Treatments for fistulas

Fistulas are most commonly removed by surgery. The appropriate medical professional diagnoses the fistula and decides on the best course of action, depending on the type of fistula and its location.

Another way to treat a fistula is by using a catheter to drain the fistula. These are usually used to treat small fistulas and as a way to control infection.

Fistulas can also be closed with a type of glue called fibrin glue, which can be used to seal the fistula when necessary. A plug may also be used to plug the fistula.

The symptoms of a fistula can be treated in some cases with medications that also treat the infection caused by the fistula.

Treatments for most types of fistulas are successful.