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Rectovaginal fistula may be extremely debilitating. If the opening between the rectum and vagina is wide it will allow both flatulence and feces to escape through the vagina, leading to fecal incontinence. There is an association with recurrent urinary and vaginal infections. This type of fistula can cause pediatricians to misdiagnose imperforate anus. The severity of the symptoms will depend on the size of fistula. Most often, it appears after about one week or so following delivery.
Rectovaginal fistulae are often the result of trauma during childbirth (in which case it is known as obstetric fistula) in situations where there is inadequate health care, such as in some developing countries. Risk factors include prolonged labour, difficult instrumental delivery and paramedian episiotomy. Rates in Eritrea are estimated as high as 350 per 100,000 vaginal births. Fistulas can also develop as a result of physical trauma to either the vagina or anus, including from rape. Women with rectovaginal fistulae are often stigmatized in developing countries, and become outcasts.
Rectovaginal fistulae can also be a symptom of various diseases, including infection by lymphogranuloma venereum, or the unintended result of surgery, such as episiotomy or sexual reassignment surgery. They may present as a complication of vaginal surgery, including vaginal hysterectomy. They are a recognized presentation of rectal carcinoma or rarely diverticular disease of the bowel or Crohn's disease. They are seen rarely after radiotherapy treatment for cervical cancer.
After diagnosing rectovaginal fistula, it is best to wait for around 3 months to allow the inflammation to subside. If the fistula is small, it will heal spontaneously during this time interval. For low fistulae, a vaginal approach is best, while an abdominal repair would be necessary for a high fistula at the posterior fornix.
A circular incision is made around the fistula and vagina is separated from the underlying rectum with a sharp circumferential dissection. The entire fistulous tract, along with a small rim of rectal mucosa is incised. The rectal wall is then closed extramucosally.
- Kumaran SS, Palanivelu C, Kavalakat AJ, Parthasarathi R, Neelayathatchi M (2005). "Laparoscopic repair of high rectovaginal fistula: Is it technically feasible?". BMC Surg 5: 20. doi:10.1186/1471-2482-5-20. PMC 1266383. PMID 16221302.
- Lynch CM, Felder TL, Schwandt RA, Shashy RG (1999). "Lymphogranuloma venereum presenting as a rectovaginal fistula". Infect Dis Obstet Gynecol 7 (4): 199–201. doi:10.1155/S1064744999000344. PMC 1784745. PMID 10449269.
- "Rectovaginal fistula: Treatment and Management". Medscape. Retrieved 14 August 2012.