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What Is a Fistula? - Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

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  • 0:02 Overview of a Fistula
  • 0:57 Anal Fistula
  • 1:19 Vaginal Fistula
  • 2:42 Arteriovenous Fistula
  • 3:46 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Virginia Rawls

Virginia has a master' degree in Education and a bachelors in Sports Medicine/athletic Training

Sometimes organs find a way of connecting to one another. This new connection is called a fistula. This lesson will explore what a fistula is, common fistulas that can occur in the body, and symptoms and treatments of these fistulas.

Overview of a Fistula

A fistula is an abnormal passageway or tube between two or more body parts that are not normally joined together. Fistulas can occur in the digestive, urinary and reproductive tracts, and in the circulatory system. Fistulas can be a congenital condition, meaning that they develop in utero, or they can develop in the body because of disease, infection, surgery, or injury.

Let's say that we were sitting at a table and I gave you a model of the stomach, model of the brain, and a drinking straw then I asked you to join the models together. What would you do? You would most likely put one end of the straw into the stomach and the other end of the straw into the brain. You just created a fistula with the straw!

Let's take a closer look at the most common fistulas that occur in the body: anal, vaginal, and arteriovenous fistulas. We'll look at their names, causes, symptoms, and treatments.

Anal Fistula: Symptoms and Treatment

An anal fistula is a passageway that develops between the anus and the skin. This usually develops because of an anal infection.

Symptoms of anal fistulas include fever, bleeding from the anus or skin where the fistula has occurred, constipation, pain with stool passing, and swelling of the skin around the anus. Surgery is the only treatment that will close the anal fistula.

Vaginal Fistula: Symptoms and Treatment

A vaginal fistula is a passageway that develops between the vagina and other organs in the pelvis. Vaginal fistulas can be caused by having children, Crohn's disease, previous surgeries, or cancer. There are several types of vaginal fistulas, including:

  • Colovaginal fistulas - which develop between the vagina and the colon
  • Enterovaginal fistula - which develop between the vagina and small intestines
  • Rectovaginal fistula - which develop between the vagina and rectum
  • Ureterovaginal fistula - which develop between the vagina and ureters
  • Urethrovaginal fistula - which develop between the vagina and urethra
  • Vesicovaginal fistula - which develop between the vagina and bladder

Symptoms of vaginal fistulas can be hard to understand, but it really happens. It is important to be sympathetic with patients that have any or all of these conditions. Patients that have fistulas that occur between the vagina and colon, small intestines, or rectum will notice that they are passing gas and stool out of their vagina. Patients that have fistulas that occur between the vagina and ureters, urethra or bladder will notice that they are passing urine out of their vagina. Patients with vagina fistulas will also notice foul smells and vaginal soreness.

It is rare, but some vaginal fistulas can heal on their own. Most of the time the only way to treat any of the vaginal fistulas is with surgery.

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