A fistula (plural: fistulas or fistulae /-li, -l/; from Latin fistula, "tube, pipe") is an abnormal connection between two hollow spaces (technically, two epithelialized surfaces), such as blood vessels, intestines, or other hollow organs.[3] Fistulas are usually caused by injury or surgery, but they can also result from an infection or inflammation.[4] Fistulas are generally a disease condition, but they may be surgically created for therapeutic reasons.

Colocutaneous Fistula.PNG
Abdominal CT scan with right colocutaneous fistula and associated subcutaneous pneumatosis
SpecialtyGeneral surgery

In botany, the term is most common in its adjectival forms, where it is used in binomial names to refer to species that are distinguished by hollow or tubular structures. Monarda fistulosa, for example, has tubular flowers;[5] Eutrochium fistulosum has a tubular stem; Allium fistulosum has hollow or tubular leaves, and Acacia seyal subsp. fistula is the subspecies with hollow spines.


Fistulas can develop in various parts of the body. The following list is sorted by the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems.

H: Diseases of the eye, adnexa, ear, and mastoid processEdit

I: Diseases of the circulatory systemEdit

J: Diseases of the respiratory systemEdit

K: Diseases of the digestive systemEdit

Duodeno Biliary Fistula

M: Diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissueEdit

N: Diseases of the urogenital systemEdit

Q: Congenital malformations, deformations and chromosomal abnormalitiesEdit

T: External causesEdit


Various types of fistulas include:

  • Blind: Only one open end; may also be called sinus tracts
  • Complete: Both internal and external openings
  • Incomplete: An external skin opening that does not connect to any internal organ

Although most fistulas are in forms of a tube, some can also have multiple branches.


Various causes of fistulas include:

  • Disease: Inflammatory bowel disease, more often in the form of Crohn's disease than ulcerative colitis,[6] is the leading cause of anorectal, enteroenteral, and enterocutaneous fistulas. A person with severe stage-3 hidradenitis suppurativa will also develop fistulas.
  • Medical treatment: Complications from gallbladder surgery can lead to biliary fistulas. Radiation therapy can lead to vesicovaginal fistulas. Arteriovenous fistulas can be created deliberately.
  • Trauma: Head trauma can lead to perilymph fistulas, whereas trauma to other parts of the body can cause arteriovenous fistulas. Obstructed labor can lead to vesicovaginal and rectovaginal fistulas. An obstetric fistula develops when blood supply to the tissues of the vagina and the bladder (and/or rectum) is cut off during prolonged obstructed labor. The tissues die and a hole forms through which urine and/or feces pass uncontrollably. Vesicovaginal and rectovaginal fistulas may also be caused by rape, in particular gang rape, and rape with foreign objects, as evidenced by the abnormally high number of women in conflict areas who have suffered fistulae.[7][8] In 2003, thousands of women in eastern Congo presented themselves for treatment of traumatic fistulas caused by systematic, violent gang rape, often also with sharp objects that occurred during the country's five years of war. So many cases have been reported that the destruction of the vagina is considered a war injury and recorded by doctors as a crime of combat.[9]


Treatment for fistula varies depending on the cause and extent of the fistula, but often involves surgical intervention combined with antibiotic therapy.

Typically the first step in treating a fistula is an examination by a doctor to determine the extent and "path" that the fistula takes through the tissue.

In some cases the fistula is temporarily covered, for example a fistula caused by cleft palate is often treated with a palatal obturator to delay the need for surgery to a more appropriate age.

Surgery is often required to assure adequate drainage of the fistula (so that pus may escape without forming an abscess). Various surgical procedures are commonly used, most commonly fistulotomy, placement of a seton (a cord that is passed through the path of the fistula to keep it open for draining), or an endorectal flap procedure (where healthy tissue is pulled over the internal side of the fistula to keep feces or other material from reinfecting the channel). Treatment involves filling the fistula with fibrin glue; also plugging it with plugs made of porcine small intestine submucosa have also been explored in recent years, with variable success. Surgery for anorectal fistulae is not without side effects, including recurrence, reinfection, and incontinence. A high rate of recurrence and more chances of complications like incontinence are always there in fistula surgeries (Anal Fistula).

It is important to note that surgical treatment of a fistula without diagnosis or management of the underlying condition, if any, is not recommended. For example, surgical treatment of fistulae in Crohn's disease can be effective, but if the Crohn's disease itself is not treated, the rate of recurrence of the fistula is very high (well above 50%).

There is a unique and superior treatment using fibrin glue to close the anal fistulas that take cares of patient comfort, an undisturbed sphincter function, reduced hospital stay, reduced the need of the postoperative analgesia and minimized operative trauma, wound pain, complications and adverse reactions. This minimal invasive procedure helps quick recovery of patients in order to continue their normal daily activities.[10]

Therapeutic useEdit

In people with kidney failure, requiring dialysis, a cimino fistula is often deliberately created in the arm by means of a short day surgery in order to permit easier withdrawal of blood for hemodialysis.

As a radical treatment for portal hypertension, surgical creation of a portacaval fistula produces an anastomosis between the hepatic portal vein and the inferior vena cava across the omental foramen (of Winslow). This spares the portal venous system from high pressure which can cause esophageal varices, caput medusae, and hemorrhoids.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ OED 2nd edition, 1989.
  2. ^ Entry "fistula" in Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.
  3. ^ Garefalakis, Maria; Hickey, Martha; Johnson, Neil (2017). "Gynecological Morbidity". International Encyclopedia of Public Health. Elsevier. pp. 342–353. doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-803678-5.00178-8. ISBN 978-0-12-803708-9. A fistula is an abnormal connection or passageway between organs or vessels that are not normally connected.
  4. ^ MedlinePlus Encyclopedia: Fistula
  5. ^ Identification of Monarda fistulosa Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine subpage of Discover Life , 2014.
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Stephanie Nolen, "Not Women Anymore…" Ms. Magazine, Spring 2005". Archived from the original on 2017-01-20. Retrieved 2007-12-11.
  8. ^ UNFPA: United Nations Population Fund. Press Release, 22 June 2006. "More Funding Needed to Help Victims of Sexual Violence"
  9. ^ Emily Wax, Washington Post Foreign Service. Saturday, October 25, 2003; Page A01 "A Brutal Legacy of Congo War"
  10. ^ Shah S, Bawa A, Mishra A, Nar AS (May 2013). "The Role of Fibrin Glue in the Treatment of High and Low Fistulas in Ano". Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research. 7 (5): 876–879. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2013/5387.2964. PMC 3681059. PMID 23814732.

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