What is the definition of Gastrointestinal Fistula?

A gastrointestinal fistula is an abnormal opening in the stomach or intestines that allows the contents to leak.

  • Leaks that go through to a part of the intestines are called entero-enteral fistulas.
  • Leaks that go through to the skin are called enterocutaneous fistulas.
  • Other organs can be involved, such as the bladder, vagina, anus, and colon.

What are the alternative names for Gastrointestinal Fistula?

Entero-enteral fistula; Enterocutaneous fistula; Fistula - gastrointestinal; Crohn disease - fistula

What are the causes for Gastrointestinal Fistula?

Most gastrointestinal fistulas occur after surgery. Other causes include:

  • Blockage in the intestine
  • Infection (such as diverticulitis)
  • Crohn disease
  • Radiation to the abdomen (most often given as part of cancer treatment)
  • Injury, such as deep wounds from stabbing or gunshot
  • Swallowing caustic substances (such as lye)

What are the symptoms for Gastrointestinal Fistula?

Depending on where the leak is, these fistulas may cause diarrhea, and poor absorption of nutrients. Your body may not have as much water and fluids as it needs.

  • Some fistulas may not cause symptoms.
  • Other fistulas cause intestinal contents to leak through an opening in the skin.

What are the current treatments for Gastrointestinal Fistula?

Treatments may include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Immune suppressing medicines if the fistula is a result of Crohn disease
  • Surgery to remove the fistula and part of the intestines if the fistula is not healing
  • Nutrition through a vein while the fistula heals (in some cases)

Some fistulas close on their own after a few weeks to months.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Gastrointestinal Fistula?

The outlook depends on the person's overall health and how bad the fistula is. People who are otherwise healthy have a very good chance of recovery.

What are the possible complications for Gastrointestinal Fistula?

Fistulas may result in malnutrition and dehydration, depending on their location in the intestine. They may also cause skin problems and infection.

When should I contact a medical professional for Gastrointestinal Fistula?

Call your health care provider if you have:

  • Very bad diarrhea or other major change in bowel habits
  • Leakage of fluid from an opening on the abdomen or near the anus, particularly if you have recently had abdominal surgery


De Prisco G, Celinski S, Spak CW. Abdominal abscesses and gastrointestinal fistulas. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 29.

Li Y, Zhu W. Pathogenesis of Chron's disease-associated fistula and abscess. In: Shen B, ed. Interventional Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Cambridge, MA: Elsevier Academic Press; 2018:chap 4.

Nussbaum MS, McFadden DW. Gastric, duodenal, and small intestinal fistulas. In: Yeo CJ, ed. Shackleford's Surgery of the Alimentary Tract. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 76.

  • Condition: Complex Anal Fistula in Crohn's Disease
  • Journal: World journal of gastroenterology
  • Treatment Used: Stem Cell Injection
  • Number of Patients: 12
  • Published —
This study evaluated the use of allogenic, adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells (darvadstrocel) for the treatment of patients with complex anal Crohn's fistula (abnormal opening).
  • Condition: Post-Pancreaticoduodenectomy
  • Journal: World journal of surgical oncology
  • Treatment Used: Pancreatic Outflow Tract Reconstruction
  • Number of Patients: 1629
  • Published —
This review of the literature evaluated the outcomes of pancreaticogastrostomy and pancreaticojejunostomy after pancreatoduodenectomy.
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  • Intervention Type: Procedure
  • Participants: 500
  • Start Date: July 1, 2021
SPAnish DIStal PANcreatectomy Snapshot Study
Clinical Trial
  • Status: Not yet recruiting
  • Intervention Type: Device
  • Participants: 114
  • Start Date: June 1, 2021
The Safety Research of Timing of the Removal of Abdominal Drains After Pancreatic Surgery : Results of a Prospective Randomized Clinical Trial