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Fistulas are abnormal connections that form between an organ, vessel or intestine and another part of your body. They can develop in a number of places. While they sometimes close on their own, they often require treatment.

Causes of fistulas include the following:

Fistulas: what you should know

  • Fistulas can form in a number of places within your body. Some of the most common types include the following:
    • Anal and gastrointestinal fistulas: Create openings that allow the contents of the stomach or intestines to leak into another part of the intestines or an opening in the skin. They are often caused by inflammatory bowel disease, including ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
    • Arteriovenous (AV) fistulas: Form between arteries and veins in your legs, arms, lungs, kidneys or brain. They are caused by injuries that pierce the skin, cardiac catherization, genetic conditions and congenital defects
    • Vaginal and rectovaginal fistulas: Develop between the vagina and the bladder, colon or rectum, leading to urine or stool passing through the vagina. They are caused by surgical complications following a hysterectomy, traumatic childbirth, pelvic abscess or other pelvic inflammatory conditions.
  • Treating a fistula involves a combination of controlling the underlying condition that is causing the fistula and surgery to eliminate the fistula. 

How can I get help for a fistula?

The following symptoms of fistulas often cause both physical pain and discomfort and emotional distress:

Having these symptoms does not mean you have a fistula. Other conditions have similar symptoms. Your doctor at Rush can help you determine the root of your problem.

Care for fistulas at Rush

Fistula treatment options depend on the type, size and location of your fistula. Your doctor at Rush will discuss some of these options with you:  

  • Monitoring: If you have a small fistula that does not cause any symptoms, your doctor might recommend close monitoring. Some fistulas close without treatment.
  • Ultrasound-guided compression: This procedure is done with AV fistulas that are visible in your legs. An ultrasound probe compresses the fistula and blocks blood flow to damaged blood vessels.
  • Surgery: There are a number of different minimally invasive and open surgical options for repairing fistulas. The goal for the surgery is to safely repair the fistula and alleviate your symptoms, while also focusing on restoring your quality of life.

Why choose Rush for fistula care

  • You’ll have access to specialists in the Program for Abdominal and Pelvic Health (PAPH) at Rush. Your care team — which can include doctors, surgeons, physical therapists and psychologists — works together to treat vaginal or pelvic fistulas and determine what is causing the problem.
  • Surgeons in the colon and rectal surgery program at Rush are experts in the surgical treatment of gastrointestinal fistulas. They have pioneered minimally invasive techniques to treat fistulas, disorders of the lower intestinal tract and other complex colorectal problems.
  • The inflammatory bowel disease program at Rush offers comprehensive care for people suffering from Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. You get access to the latest treatment options to prevent and/or repair a fistula.

Departments and programs that treat this condition