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A fistula is an abnormal passageway or opening between two organs or areas within the body. Fistulas can develop in various parts of the body and are usually caused by tissue that has been damaged and thinned over time, ultimately creating an opening, or a fistula.
A fistula that has formed in the wall of the vagina is called a vaginal fistula. Vaginal fistulas may be caused by tissue damage that has occurred as a result of previous surgery, radiation treatment, inflammation due to inflammatory bowel disease, or childbirth. Types of vaginal fistulas may include:
- Vesicovaginal fistula – A vaginal fistula that opens into the urinary tract.
- Rectovaginal fistula – A vaginal fistula that opens into the rectum.
- Urethrovaginal fistula – A vaginal fistula that opens into the urethra.
Vaginal fistulas are generally painless but symptoms may include urinary or fecal incontinence, vaginal discharge, and an inflamed or infected vaginal area. To diagnose a fistula, a doctor will review all symptoms and conduct a physical examination. Additional tests may include an intravenous pyelogram, or a dye test to measure the amount of fluid leakage, X-rays, blood tests, and urinalysis.
Treatments for a vaginal fistula can vary and may include medication and possible diet restriction, especially for a rectovaginal fistula, to lessen the amount of stool flow and help the affected area heal. Fistulas that do not respond to other treatment may require surgery to repair the damaged tissue and close up the opening or passageway between the organs. With proper treatment, a fistula can be corrected or healed and should not reoccur.