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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Lesson Transcript
Virginia Rawls

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

Expert Contributor
Christianlly Cena

Christianlly has taught college physics and facilitated laboratory courses. He has a master's degree in Physics and is pursuing his doctorate study.

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

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Additional Activities

Fistula Writing Prompts

Read each scenario below and provide a brief written answer to each question. Use the given lesson as a reference.

Prompt 1

A 28-year-old female flight attendant goes to a hospital. She was admitted into the emergency room due to persistent abdominal bloating and urine leakage from her vagina. Through cystoscopy, her urologist identified an abnormal tract between her bladder and vagina. According to her medical history, she had a benign tumor in her uterus and underwent an operation to remove it just two months ago.

  1. What type of abnormality is the patient experiencing? Be specific.
  2. Is her recent surgery a possible cause of this condition? Why or why not?

Prompt 2

A male patient decides to go to a nearby hospital for a checkup. He divulged to the doctor that he has a sexually transmitted anal infection. His medical exam shows that he is experiencing high fever and anal bleeding accompanied by constipation. From these symptoms, what will the doctor's diagnosis be?

Sample Answers

Prompt 1

  1. The patient has an abnormal tract between her bladder and vagina, which is a clear indication that she has a vesicovaginal fistula.
  2. In humans, the uterus is between the pelvis and the bladder. Having the patient's uterus removed is the likely cause of her vesicovaginal fistula.

Prompt 2

  1. An individual that has symptoms ranging from high fever, constipation, bleeding and swelling of the skin around the anus is known to have an anal fistula. In the patient's case, he has a high fever, bleeding, and constipation. Therefore, the patient has an anal fistula.

Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is for your information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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