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What is a fistula?

Abnormal connections

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What is a fistula?

Asked by Terry Cardner of St Louis, Missouri

The body grows all sorts of things. Parts of the body are connected in all sorts of ways. A fistula is an abnormal connection, such as a tube, between an organ, a vessel, or an intestine and another organ, vessel, or intestine. The connection can also involve the skin.

Fistulas are usually the result of injury or surgery, but can also come from infection or inflammation. Anyone can develop one. Inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease, is an example of a disease that promotes the development of fistulas. In such as case the fistula is between one loop of intestine and another.

"Fistula" is Latin for "pipe" or "long narrow ulcer". Dr J M Draus and five colleagues from the Department of Surgery at the School of Medicine at the University of Louisville write in the October 2006 issue of <cite<Surgery that fistulas can be very serious. In their study of 106 patients with enterocutaneous fistulas, seven per cent died of complications.

But for most such fistula patients, there are very satisfactory treatments. The Draus team points out that 75 to 85 per cent of patients are healed after surgery. See your physician if you have any worries in this area.

Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au

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