Medical Specialties: Gastroenterology, Obstetrics/gynecology, Urology

Clinical Definition

An atypical tract or opening between internal organs or structures, a fistula may form between organs, or between a structure and the exterior of the body. The passage may occur due to genetic defect, pathology or trauma, or it may be artificially created by surgeons to facilitate movement of fluids.

In Our Own Words

A fistula is a hole or a tunnel that forms between areas that are normally separate, for example, between arteries and veins or between an organ and surrounding tissues. Fistulas often fuse as a result of an infection or an abscess that bores through the lining of the digestive tract (often the rectum or anus) and into surrounding areas, or to the outside of the body. Long-standing, localized inflammations (bowel diseases, for instance) also increase the risk of developing a fistula. Surgery is required. 

Relevant Conditions
  • Abdominal or pelvic surgery
  • Bowel cancer
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Diverticulitis
Common Types
  • Anorectal (between anal canal and skin)
  • Ureteroenteric (between bladder and intestines)
  • Vesicovaginal (between bladder and vagina)
Side Effects
  • Uncontrollable leakage of fecal matter or urine
  • Frequent urinary tract infections, gas from the urethra
  • Infections
Share this article
  • Baylor Clinic. Fistulas. Accessed July 2013.
  • Cleveland Clinic. “Diseases & Conditions: Anal Fistula.” Reviewed July 1, 2010. Accessed on July 12, 2013.
  • American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons. “Rectovaginal and Rectourethral Fistulas.” Accessed on July 12, 2013.
  • Pickhardt, Perry M.D. “Acquired Gastrointestinal Fistulas: Classification, Etiologies, and Imaging Evaluation.” Radiology July 2002; 9 (224). Accessed July 14, 2013.
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