Gastrointestinal Fistula

Symptoms, Doctors, Treatments, Research & More

Condition 101

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.

Latest Research

Latest Advance
  • Condition: Anastomosis Leakage Following Surgery for Esophageal Atresia and Tracheoesophageal Fistula
  • Journal: Ulusal travma ve acil cerrahi dergisi = Turkish journal of trauma & emergency surgery : TJTES
  • Treatment Used: Nasojejunal Catheter
  • Number of Patients: 18
  • Published —
In this study, researchers evaluated the safety and effectiveness of the placement of a nasojejunal catheter for the treatment of anastomosis leakage following surgery for esophageal atresia and tracheoesophageal fistula.
Latest Advance
  • Condition: Long-Gap Esophageal Atresia
  • Journal: Medicine
  • Treatment Used: Magnetic Compression Anastomosis
  • Number of Patients: 1
  • Published —
This case report describes an infant with long-gap esophageal atresia that was treated using magnetic compression anastomosis.

Clinical Trials

Clinical Trial
  • Status: Not yet recruiting
  • Study Type: Device
  • Participants: 300
  • Start Date: January 4, 2021
Improving Oesophageal Protection During AF Ablation: a Multicentre Double-blind Randomized Clinical Trial.
Clinical Trial
  • Status: Not yet recruiting
  • Study Type: Procedure
  • Participants: 75
  • Start Date: January 1, 2021