, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 128-134
Date: 25 May 2007

Benign rectovaginal fistulas: management and results of a personal series

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Treatment of benign rectovaginal fistula has a high failure rate and entails difficult decisions. The purpose of this retrospective study was to clarify the concepts which may improve its management.


Between 1983 and 2004, 46 consecutive women of median age 41 years were treated by the same surgeon. Etiology of simple fistulas was iatrogenic (n=6), obstetric (n=4) and septic (n=3). Complex fistulas were due to inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) (n=18, 11 pouchvaginal) or were iatrogenic (n=9), actinic (n=5) or septic (n=1). Surgical techniques included endorectal or vaginal advancement flaps, fistulectomy and sphincteroplasty, vaginal/rectal closure and epiploplasty, restorative proctectomy and restorative proctocolectomy. In 20 patients, a diverting stoma was performed as a single procedure or concomitant to the curative attempt.


Overall, 33 of the 39 fistulas (85%) treated for cure healed, including all simple fistulas and 20 complex fistulas (8 iatrogenic, 3 actinic, 2 ulcerative colitis without restorative proctocolectomy; 5 pouch vaginal; 1 septic; 1 Crohn’s disease) (p=0.009). The first operation for the fistula was curative in 20 of 39 fistulas, including 10 of 13 simple and 10 of 26 complex fistulas (p=0.023). There was no significant age difference between cured and not-cured patients.


Simple versus complex fistulas is the most determinant factor for healing. In IBD fistulas, ulcerative colitis shows better prognosis than Crohn’s disease. For complex fistulas, a temporary diverting stoma seems necessary.