Bowel Fistulas

Bowel fistulas, or enteric fistulas, are the result of an abnormal connection between the gastrointestinal tract and another organ. 

When you’re recovering from gastrointestinal surgery, one of the last things you’ll want to deal with is a bowel fistula. This condition can either be entirely internal (entero-entero fistulas) or a connection between the intestine and the skin (enterocutaneous fistulas), and it can eventually lead to further health complications in other parts of the body.

Causes of Bowel Fistulas

Most patients with a bowel fistula developed it following a surgical procedure or trauma. Bowel fistulas can also form spontaneously in people with an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)—especially Crohn’s disease.

Symptoms of Bowel Fistulas

Bowel fistulas can cause intestinal leakage due to the abnormal connection they create between organs, but your symptoms can vary based on the type of fistula you have.

Entero-entero fistulas can create the following internal problems:

  • Swelling
  • Pain and tenderness in the belly
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea

With enterocutaneous fistulas, intestinal leakage is clearly visible—it comes out through an opening on the skin. Testing may still be ordered to confirm the diagnosis.

Diagnosing Bowel Fistulas

A doctor may be able to diagnose you with a bowel fistula after a physical exam and a talk about your symptoms. He or she may also order further testing, which can include a CT scan or a fistulogram, in order to find the exact location of the fistula.

Treating Bowel Fistulas

The experts at Tampa General Hospital can provide the highest level of care for your bowel fistula. Initial treatment methods can include:

  • Wound care and fluid removal through a catheter
  • Intravenous (IV) treatment to replace vital fluids lost through intestinal leakage

If the fistula doesn’t heal properly or your health declines, surgery may be required later.