Intestinal Fistula Symptoms and Treatment

Intestinal FistulaAn intestinal fistula sounds about as unpleasant as it actually is, as it’s essentially a hole or opening in the stomach or intestines that allows the leakage of the contents of those gastrointestinal organs. In some cases, the leak goes to the intestines, and in other cases it goes right out through the skin, which is called an enterocutaneous fistula.

These abnormalities occur most often following a surgery, (a small bowel fistula is most common in this situation), but there are many other causes of an intestinal fistula. For instance, an obstruction in the G.I. Tract can create them, as can inflammation and infection, along with conditions such as crohn’s disease and lastly, trauma.

Symptoms on an intestinal fistula can vary depending on the cause. For instance, bloody bowel movements can signal an obstruction. Additional symptoms of bowel obstruction include bloating, constipation and diarrhea (which occurs in the case of an intestine that has a partial block.) If an obstruction is not present, there are other symptoms of an intestinal fistula that can manifest. All symptoms greatly depend on the location of the leak as well as severity. Diarrhea is a common symptom as is dehydration. There are some types of intestinal fistula that present no symptoms at all, and this is particularly common with internal fistulas.

Fistula treatment again greatly varies depending on the cause, severity and location of the intestinal fistula. Prior to treatment, diagnosis will be confirmed with a series of tests such as a barium enema, a barium swallow or imaging studies such as a CT scan or a fistulogram (a procedure involving contrast dye and x-rays). Depending on the specifics involved with the fistula, treatment may involve nothing much at all. Some fistulas heal on their own within a few weeks although this depends greatly on the size, severity and location of the intestinal fistula. In cases where they are allowed to heal on their own, nutritional therapy may be required during the healing process. In other situations, surgery may very well be required to remove the intestinal fistula.

In either situation with regards treatment of a fistula, the expected outlook for patients is normally very good, depending of course on how the rest of the person’s overall health is. In some cases, an intestinal fistula can result in a nutrient loss and dehydration, and these conditions will need to be treated along with or immediately following the fistula.

If you suspect that your gastrointestinal ails are a result of an intestinal fistula, a consultation with your health care provider is most important. Early detection and diagnosis can lead to better overall results and outcomes.