, Volume 22, Issue 9, pp 1051-1060
Date: 03 Apr 2007

Recovery rates and functional results after repair for rectovaginal fistula in Crohn’s disease: a comparison of different techniques

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Abstract

Background and objectives

Rectovaginal fistulas (RVF) in Crohn’s disease continue to be a challenging problem. Several operations are often necessary to attain definitive healing of the disease process. There are no guidelines concerning optimal therapeutic approaches. Endoanal mobilization techniques such as the advancement flap technique were considered the therapy of choice for many years, but are now regarded ever more critically. We have implemented several less aggressive closure techniques that take account of the anatomy and morphology of the anorectum. The long-term results are presented in this paper.

Materials and methods

The method used was observational analysis with a standard protocol of all patients with RVF and Crohn’s disease treated surgically at a single institution.

Results/Findings

Between January 1985 and December 2002, we treated 72 patients with low rectovaginal fistulas. The operations comprised 56 procedures performed in 37 women presenting with RVF. The patients’ median age was 34.6 ± 10 years; the follow-up period was 7.15 years (10 months–18 years). Several techniques were performed: transverse transperineal repair (n = 20), endoanal direct closure multilayer without flap (n = 15), anocutaneous flap (n = 14), and advancement mucosal or full-thickness flap (n = 7). Diverting ileostomies were created in 28 patients (76%). Recovery was achieved with the initial repair in 19 patients (51.4%). An additional 12 patients underwent repeat procedures (2–5), with an overall success rate of 27:37 (73%). The rate of recurrence was 30% during a follow-up period of 7.1 years. The rate of proctectomy was 13.5%. The success rates for each of the techniques in the above group were 70, 73, 86, and 29%, respectively. They were significantly higher with the direct closure and anocutaneous flap technique than with the advancement flap technique. However, the transperineal repair led to decreased postoperative resting pressures. In the advancement flap technique, the resting and squeezing pressure decreased significantly. The risk of developing a suture line dehiscence leading to a persisting fistula was higher in the advancement flap procedure with 43%.

Interpretation/conclusion

Techniques with a low degree of tissue mobilization such as the direct closure and anocutaneous flap show higher success rates without significant postoperative changes in continence and manometric outcome. Impaired continence was observed only in the advancement flap group, resulting in significant changes in manometric values and recovery rates. The authors prefer to apply the direct multilayer closure technique without flap.