Classification and external resources
MeSH D005402

In medicine, a fistula (pl. fistulas or fistulae) is an abnormal[1] connection or passageway between two epithelium-lined organs or vessels that normally do not connect. It is generally a disease condition, but a fistula may be surgically created for therapeutic reasons.



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 process

  • (H04.6) Lacrimal fistula
  • (H70.1) Mastoid fistula
    • Craniosinus fistula: between the intracranial space and a paranasal sinus
  • (H83.1) Labyrinthine fistula
  • Preauricular fistula
    • Preauricular fistula: usually on the top of the cristae helicis ears

I: Diseases of the circulatory system

J: Diseases of the respiratory system

K: Diseases of the digestive system

Duodeno Biliary Fistula
  • (K11.4) Fistula of salivary gland
  • (K31.6) Fistula of stomach and duodenum
  • (K31.6) Gastrocolic fistula
  • (K31.6) Gastrojejunocolic fistula - after a Billroth II a fistula forms between the transverse colon and the upper jejunum (which, post Billroth II, is attached to the remainder of the stomach). Fecal matter passes improperly from the colon to the stomach and causes halitosis.
    • Enterocutaneous fistula: between the intestine and the skin surface, namely from the duodenum or the jejunum or the ileum. This definition excludes the fistulas arising from the colon or the appendix.
    • Gastric fistula: from the stomach to the skin surface
  • (K38.3) Fistula of appendix
  • (K60.3) Anal fistula
    • (K60.3) Anorectal fistula: connecting the rectum or other anorectal area to the skin surface. This results in abnormal discharge of feces through an opening other than the anus. Also called fistula-in-ano.
      • Fecal fistula: see Anorectal
      • Fistula-in-ano
  • (K60.5) Anorectal fistula
  • (K63.2) Fistula of intestine
    • Enteroenteral fistula: between two parts of the intestine
  • (K82.3) Fistula of gallbladder
  • (K83.3) Fistula of bile duct

M: Diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue

  • (M25.1) Fistula of joint

N: Diseases of the urogenital system

Note: in non-medical contexts, the word "fistula" is often used to imply urogenital fistulae.

  • (N32.1) Vesicointestinal fistula
  • (N36.0) Urethral fistula
  • (N64.0) Fistula of nipple
  • (N82) Fistulae involving female genital tract / Obstetric fistula
    • (N82.0) Vesicovaginal fistula: between the bladder and the vagina
    • (N82.1) Other female urinary-genital tract fistulae
      • Cervical fistula: abnormal opening in the cervix
    • (N82.2) Fistula of vagina to small intestine
    • (N82.3) Fistula of vagina to large intestine
    • (N82.4) Other female intestinal-genital tract fistulae
    • (N82.5) Female genital tract-skin fistulae
    • (N82.8) Other female genital tract fistulae
    • (N82.9) Female genital tract fistula, unspecified

Q: Congenital malformations, deformations and chromosomal abnormalities

T: External causes

  • (T14.5) Traumatic arteriovenous fistula
  • (T81.8) Persistent postoperative fistula


Various types of fistulas include:

Name Definition
Blind with only one open end
Complete with both external and internal openings
Incomplete a fistula with an external skin opening, which 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 fistula are:

Category Elaboration
Diseases Inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, are the leading causes 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 fistula. Radiation therapy can lead to vesicovaginal fistula. An arteriovenous fistula can be deliberately created, as described below in therapeutic use.
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.[2][3] In 2003, thousands of women in eastern Congo presented themselves for treatment of traumatic fistula caused by systematic, violent gang rape 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.[4]


Treatment for fistulae 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.

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 fistula is very high (well above 50%).

Therapeutic use

In end stage renal failure patients, 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 also

Obstetric fistula


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • FISTULA — instrumentum Musicum pastorale, multo olim in usu. Fiebat autem ex plurius cicutis sive cannis cerâ iunctis. Mart. l. 14. Apopn. Epigr. 63. cuius epigraphe fistula. Quid me compactum ceris et arundine rides? Quae primum exstructa est Fistula,… …   Hofmann J. Lexicon universale

  • Fistula — Fis tu*la (?; 135), n.; pl. {Fistul[ae]}. [L.] 1. A reed; a pipe. [1913 Webster] 2. A pipe for convejing water. [Obs.] Knight. [1913 Webster] 3. (Med.) A permanent abnormal opening into the soft parts with a constant discharge; a deep, narrow,… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • fístula — f. anat. patol. Trayecto patológico congénito o adquirido que comunica de forma anormal dos órganos o tejidos entre sí, o bien un órgano o tejido con el exterior del organismo. La fístula no tiende a cerrarse ni a curarse espontáneamente. Cuando… …   Diccionario médico

  • fistulă — FÍSTULĂ, fistule, s.f. (med.) Canal format accidental sau în urma unei operaţii, care comunică spre interior cu o glandă sau cu o cavitate naturală ori patologică şi care drenează în afară secreţiile acestora; ulceraţie adâncă într un ţesut al… …   Dicționar Român

  • fístula — s. f. 1.  [Medicina] Orifício ou canal patológico que permite a passagem de matérias orgânicas, como pus, urina ou fezes. 2.  [Medicina] Úlcera. 3.  [Figurado] Vício inveterado; mal incurável. 4.  [Linguagem poética] Flauta pastoril. 5. … …   Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa

  • fistula — long, narrow ulcer, late 14c., from L. fistula pipe, ulcer, of uncertain origin …   Etymology dictionary

  • fistula — fȉstula ž DEFINICIJA 1. pat. kanal koji vodi iz središta gnojnog procesa do drugog organa ili površine kože ili sluznice, služi za odvođenje gnojnog sekreta 2. glazb. pov. u srednjem vijeku naziv za a. svirale na orguljama b. rij. flauta… …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • fístula — sustantivo femenino 1. Área: medicina Conducto anormal que se abre en la piel, que pone en comunicación un órgano o un absceso con el exterior o con otro órgano, y que no se cierra por sí solo. fístula anal …   Diccionario Salamanca de la Lengua Española

  • fístula — (Del lat. fistŭla). 1. f. Cañón o arcaduz por donde pasa el agua u otro líquido. 2. Instrumento musical de viento, parecido a una flauta. 3. Med. Conducto anormal, ulcerado y estrecho, que se abre en la piel o en las membranas mucosas …   Diccionario de la lengua española

  • Fistŭla — (lat.), 1) Rohr, Röhre; 2) (F. eucharistica, Canna, gr. Sipho), in der abendländischen Kirche, vom 8. Jahrh. bis zur Kelchentziehung im 12. u. 13. Jahrh., ein Röhrchen, womit die Communicanten beim Abendmahl den Wein aus dem Kelche saugten; es… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

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