What is Fistula? Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment for the Condition

what is fistula

Fistulas, complex and often misunderstood, pose significant challenges for those affected. These abnormal connections between organs or tissues create distressing symptoms and require careful management. Understanding the intricacies of fistulas is paramount to navigating their impact effectively. This article sheds light on the multifaceted nature of fistulas—unveiling their causes, outlining the array of symptoms they manifest, and exploring the diverse treatment modalities available.

Whether you're overwhelmed with the uncertainties of a fistula or seeking insights into this medical condition, this comprehensive guide aims to offer clarity, empowering you with the knowledge to make informed decisions and navigate the path toward effective fistula treatment and relief.

What Are the Causes of Fistula?

Fistulas, abnormal connections between two body parts, often result from underlying health conditions or trauma. Fistula causes vary based on its type:

Obstetric Fistulas:

Typically arise from prolonged labor during childbirth, leading to tissue damage and a connection between the vagina and bladder or rectum. Inadequate medical care or access to emergency obstetric services can contribute.

Gastrointestinal Fistulas:

These can form between different parts of the intestines due to conditions like Crohn's disease, diverticulitis, or colorectal cancer. Trauma, surgery complications, or infections such as abscesses may also cause gastrointestinal fistulas.

Urinary Fistulas:

Often caused by pelvic surgery, radiation treatment, or conditions like urinary tract infections, leading to abnormal openings between the urinary tract and adjacent organs like the bladder and vagina or rectum.

Other Causes:

Trauma, inflammatory diseases, infections, or medical procedures can also lead to various types of fistulas.

Addressing fistulas typically involves surgical intervention and addressing the underlying condition causing the abnormal connection. Early detection and proper medical care are very important in managing and treating fistulas.

Symptoms of Fistula:

Fistulas are abnormal connections between organs or vessels that can occur in various parts of the body. Symptoms of fistulas depend on their location and cause. In general, common signs include:

  1. Drainage or discharge: Fistulas often produce unusual discharge or drainage, which might contain pus, blood, or other fluids. For instance, an anal fistula may cause discharge from the rectum.
  2. Pain or discomfort: There could be pain or discomfort in the vicinity of the injured area. For instance, pelvic pain could result from an enterovaginal fistula.
  3. Infection or inflammation: As a result of bacteria or other materials constantly moving between linked organs, fistulas can cause recurrent infections or inflammation.
  4. Visible openings: A fistula may occasionally result in visible openings on the skin's surface, which may cause redness or irritation.

How Can Fistula be Diagnosed?

Fistulas are abnormal connections or passageways that form between two organs or vessels that aren't usually connected. A review of the patient's medical history, a physical examination, and several diagnostic tests are typically used to diagnose a fistula.

A comprehensive discussion with the patient to understand symptoms like pain, drainage, recurrent infections, or other pertinent complaints is the first step in diagnosing a fistula. Certain symptoms, such as a tiny hole or an unusual opening on the skin's surface through which fluid or discharge may be seen, may be discovered during a physical examination.

Imaging tests, such as CT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds, or X-rays, can be used by medical professionals to visualize the affected area and ascertain the location, size, and extent of the fistula. These imaging methods aid in determining the tissues involved and the extent of the illness. Furthermore, a more precise image of the fistula's structure can be obtained by specific specialized tests like fistulography, which involves injecting a contrast dye into the fistula tract and then taking X-rays.

Accurate fistula diagnosis is crucial for appropriate treatment planning. A combination of these diagnostic methods helps healthcare providers identify the presence and characteristics of a fistula, guiding them toward the most effective treatment approach for the patient's specific condition.

Risks and Complications of Fistula

Fistulas, abnormal connections between organs or tissues, pose several risks and complications. Infection is a primary concern, as fistulas can become breeding grounds for bacteria due to the continuous flow of bodily fluids. Persistent leakage or discharge may lead to skin irritation, ulceration, and infection in surrounding tissues. Given that fistula can result in a substantial loss of fluids, electrolytes, and nutrients, malnutrition and dehydration are possible side effects.

Furthermore, fistulas may make it more difficult for the body to absorb nutrients, which could result in deficiencies. Fistulas can occasionally cause excruciating pain, discomfort, and psychological anguish in those who are impacted. Recurrence of the fistula, bleeding, and damage to surrounding structures are among the risks associated with surgery, which is frequently required to correct fistulas. To reduce these risks and complications related to fistulas, prompt medical intervention and appropriate management are essential.

Treatments for Fistula

Fistulas are abnormal connections or passageways that form between two organs or vessels that are not supposed to be connected. They often require medical intervention to heal properly. The treatment for fistulas can vary depending on the location, size, cause, and severity of the fistula. Here are some common fistula treatments:


Infections related to fistulas are frequently treated with antibiotic prescriptions. Particularly in situations where an infection is the cause of the fistula, these drugs can aid in controlling and preventing additional infections.


To repair a fistula, surgery is frequently necessary. The surgical method depends on the location and complexity of the fistula. Surgeons may opt for different techniques, such as:

  • Primary Closure: Some smaller fistulas can be closed surgically by suturing the openings together.
  • Flap Surgery involves using nearby tissue to cover and repair the fistula site.
  • Placement of Stents or Drains: In certain cases, temporary placement of stents or drains may be used to keep the area open and allow for proper drainage while it heals.
  • Fistulotomy: This involves cutting the fistula open to allow it to heal from the inside out.
  • Laparoscopic or Robotic Surgery: Minimally invasive techniques may be used in some cases, leading to smaller incisions and faster recovery times.

Seton Placement: A seton is a piece of thread or rubber placed through the fistula tract to drain the infection and promote healing. It may remain in position for several weeks or months.

Biological Therapies: Since fistulas are common in diseases like Crohn's disease, biological drugs that target the immune system may be used in certain cases to treat them.

Post-surgical Care After Fistula Removal

After fistula removal surgery, diligent care is crucial for optimal healing. Keep the surgical area clean and dry, following the surgeon's instructions for wound care. Take prescribed antibiotics and medications as directed. Avoid heavy lifting or strenuous activities that could strain the surgical site. Maintain a balanced diet to aid in recovery and promote tissue healing.

Attend follow-up appointments as scheduled to monitor healing progress and address any concerns promptly. If you experience any signs of infection, such as increased pain, redness, swelling, or discharge from the surgical site, get in touch with your healthcare provider. A good recovery requires both patience and rest.


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  2. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14466-anal-fistula
  3. https://nafc.org/fistula/
  4. https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/a/anal-fistula.html
  5. https://www.hindustantimes.com/lifestyle/health/fistula-causes-risk-factors-signs-and-symptoms-treatment-prevention-tips-101677052929523.html