Rectovaginal fistula is an abnormal connection between the rectum and the vagina. Gas or stool may leak from the bowel into the vagina.
Some rectovaginal fistulas close on their own. Most will need a surgery for repair. This condition can be treated. Contact your doctor if you think you may have a fistula.
Healthy Wall Between Vagina and Rectum
The most common cause of a rectovaginal fistula is injury during childbirth. Other causes include:
- Crohn’s disease
- Complications following surgery to the perineum (area between vagina and rectum), vagina, rectum, or anus
- Radiation treatment or cancer in the pelvic area
- Perianal infection
If you have any of these, do not assume it is due to a fistula. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. Talk to your doctor if you have:
- Passing stool or gas via the vagina
- Inability to control bowel movements
- Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
- Recurring vaginal infections
- Pain during sexual intercourse
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may need to see a colon and rectal surgeon.
Tests may include the following:
- Anorectal ultrasound—a small wand-like instrument provides a video image of the rectum and anus
- Methylene enema—a tampon is placed in the vagina and methylene blue is placed into the rectum to identify movement of fluid from rectum to vagina
- Contrast studies—barium enema may be used to view a rectovaginal fistula that cannot be seen on physical exam
- Endoscopy—a thin, lighted tube is inserted into the rectum to examine the rectum and the lower colon (to rule out irritable bowel disease)
Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Treatment options include the following:
Rectovaginal Fistula Repair Surgery
Surgery is usually needed. It is done to close the opening between the rectum and vagina. Tissue may be taken from another part of the body as a graft. This tissue will help to close the fistula.
You may be given antibiotics if the area around the fistula is infected.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons
Canadian Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons
Women's Health Matters
Rectovaginal fistula. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.com. Accessed February 2, 2010.
Wheeless CR, Roenneburg ML. Rectovaginal fistula repair. Atlas of Pelvic Surgery. Online Edition. http://www.atlasofpelvicsurgery.com/2VaginalandUrethra/14RectovaginalFistulaRepair/chap2sec14.html. Accessed February 2, 2010.
Last reviewed February 2010 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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