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Alternative Names Return to topEntero-enteral fistula; Enterocutaneous fistula; Fistula - gastrointestinal
Definition Return to top
A gastrointestinal fistula is an abnormal opening that allows the contents of the stomach or intestines to leak.
Causes Return to top
Most gastrointestinal fisulas are the result of surgery. Other causes include:
Symptoms Return to top
Depending on the part of intestine that are connected, gastrointestinal fistulas may cause diarrhea, malabsorption of nutrients, and dehydration.
Exams and Tests Return to top
A gastointestinal fistula can often be identified with a barium swallow test.
If the fistula involves the colon, a barium enema may be needed.
A CT scan of the abdomen is usually done to determine if there is an area of infection (abscess) associated with the fistula.
A fistulogram may also be done. This image test involves injecting contrast dye into the opening of the skin of an enterocutaneous fistula and then taking x-rays.
Treatment Return to top
Most fistulas close on their own after a few weeks to months. Depending on the situation, some people may need to receive nutrition through a vein while the fistula heals.
In some cases where the fistula is not healing, surgery is necessary to remove part of intestine.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
How well a patient does depends on their overall health and the cause and severity of the fistula. In otherwise healthy people, the outlook is excellent.
Possible Complications Return to top
Fistulas may result in malnutrition and dehydration, depending on their location in the intestine. They may also be a source of skin problems and infection.
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your health care provider if you have a significant change in bowel habits, especially severe diarrhea. Also call if you have any leakage of fluid from an opening on the abdomen or near the anus, especially if you have recently had abdominal surgery.
References Return to topStenson WF. Inflammatory bowel disease. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 144. Update Date: 11/17/2008 Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.