A fistula is an abnormal connection between two body parts, such as an organ or blood vessel and another structure. Fistulas are usually the result of an injury or surgery. Infection or inflammation can also cause a fistula to form.
Fistulas may occur in many parts of the body. They can form between:
- An artery and vein
- Bile ducts and the surface of the skin (from gallbladder surgery)
- The cervix and vagina
- The neck and throat
- The space inside the skull and nasal sinus
- The bowel and vagina
- The colon and surface of the body, causing feces to exit through an opening other than the anus
- The stomach and surface of the skin
- The uterus and peritoneal cavity (the space between the walls of the abdomen and internal organs)
- An artery and vein in the lungs (results in blood not picking up enough oxygen in the lungs)
- The navel and gut
Inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn disease, can lead to fistulas between one loop of intestine and another. Injury can cause fistulas to form between arteries and veins.
Types of fistulas include:
- Blind (open on one end only, but connects to two structures)
- Complete (has openings both outside and inside the body)
- Horseshoe (connects the anus to the surface of the skin after going around the rectum)
- Incomplete (a tube from the skin that is closed on the inside and does not connect to any internal structure)
De Prisco G, Celinski S, Spak CW. Abdominal abscesses and gastrointestinal fistulas. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology/Diagnosis/Management. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 28.
Lentz GM, Krane M. Anal incontinence: diagnosis and management. In: Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Lentz GM, Valea FA, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 22.
Taber's Medical Dictionary Online website. Fistula. In: Venes D, ed. 23rd ed. Taber's Online. F.A. Davis Company, 2017. www.tabers.com/tabersonline/view/Tabers-Dictionary/759338/all/fistula.
- Last reviewed on 9/16/2019
- Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is the first of its kind, requiring compliance with 53 standards of quality and accountability, verified by independent audit. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial process. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics (www.hiethics.com) and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.