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8 Most Common Questions About Fistulas – Answered!

If you’ve been diagnosed with a fistula, you may have some questions about what it is, why you have it, and what can be done. Keep reading below for answers to some of the most common questions we receive about fistulas.


The definition of a fistula is an abnormal passageway that connects two organs or vessels that do not usually connect. The most common type of fistula is around the anus.


Within the anus, there are glands that create fluid. Sometimes these can become blocked and infected, creating what is called an abscess. This is the most common cause of a fistula, although fistulas can sometimes be caused by other conditions as well, such as Crohn’s disease, sexually transmitted diseases, or cancer.


Fistulas can be very embarrassing, as well as uncomfortable. Pain is a frequent symptom, as well as frequent abscesses, foul-smelling discharge, and painful bowel movements. Skin irritation can also develop due to infections and excess fluid being discharged.


Fistulas can cause a lot of discomfort, and if left untreated, may cause serious complications. Some fistulas can cause a bacteria infection, which may result in sepsis, a dangerous condition that can lead to low blood pressure, organ damage or even death. Luckily there are many treatments available for fistulas so that more serious complications don’t occur.


If you are noticing any symptoms of a fistula – abdominal pain, discharge, a change in your bowel habits, severe diarrhea – talk to your doctor right away. Diagnosing an external fistula is relatively simple since the doctor is able to see it. He or she may send any discharge that occurs to a lab for analysis, and may also perform blood tests to help confirm the diagnosis.

If the fistula is internal, diagnosis may be harder. Your doctor may perform an endoscope to see inside, or perform ultrasounds, CTs, or X-rays to find the fistula.


An anal fistula is a very rare sign of cancer. However, if left untreated for a long time, a fistula may lead to cancer. A fistula may also develop as a result of radiation therapy.


In some cases, fistulas may close up, but then reopen. Typically, fistulas do not heal on their own without treatment.


There are different options when treating a fistula, depending on the severity. For small fistulas, your doctor may perform an in office procedure. A fistulotomy may be done to open and drain the fistula. Your doctor may also be able to use stitches to seal the fistula, allowing it to heal.

Larger fistulas will require surgery to close them properly. Post surgery, you may be prescribed pain killers, antibiotics to prevent infections, and stool softeners to make bowel movements easier while healing.

The healing process may take just a few days or weeks if the fistula was small, but larger fistulas can take a longer time to heal, and may even require additional surgeries. Be sure to keep the area clean, especially after bowel movements. Moist pads may help this process. Taking warm baths can also be soothing and can help the treated area clean.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of a fistula, don’t wait to talk to your doctor. Seek treatment and learn the options available to you – treatment may be easier than you think, and in most every case, is better than letting it go untreated.


9 Responses

  1. I was diagnosed with fistula long time ago. Fistulotomy was performed but non seems helping.
    So can you please assist.

  2. I have one of these it stinks and is a deed hole also have some dirrea,what can fix this,will my insurance cover?

  3. Mine started out feeling and looking like a boil. My family dr treated it as that. Two rounds of antibiotic then referral to general surgeon. Surgeon immediately knew it was an anal fistula and said antibiotics would not help. Since then I’ve had two anal fistula surgeries. The first didn’t go as planned. Wound opened back up. Second surgery was a success. However a month out after recent checkup feeling pain again with walking sitting bending over etc.
    Do not wait to get spot looked at by a general surgeon. Demand a referral be done!

  4. How do get diagnosed? It’s been years for me, no one will listen. What kind of doctor, can I ask for a test…?

  5. I was sure I had anal fistula but a Surgeon disagree and cut around the pimple near my anus in operation room and now I feel it growing up inside at end of spine and it’s very painful. I had anal fistula years ago and surgery at Hershey medical removed it. Now I’m scared and don’t know how to save my 62 yr old life, Family doctor has me seeing a urologist on the 20th of January I’m thinking I need Gastroenterology but what do I know, It’s my body and I’m intouch with my health.

  6. I was diagnosed with fistula and have a surgery 3 years ago and now I have fistula again is it possible that fistula is a life time diseases???
    Is fistula possible to come back after 3years and is caring a large and heavy things can affect me after the operation

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