Gastrointestinal fistula


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

Alternative Names

Entero-enteral fistula; Enterocutaneous fistula; Fistula - gastrointestinal


Most gastrointestinal fistulas occur after surgery. Other causes include:


Depending on the part of the intestines that are leaking, gastrointestinal fistulas may cause diarrhea, malabsorption of nutrients, and dehydration.

Exams and Tests


Some fistulas close on their own after a few weeks to months. Depending on the situation, some people may need to receive nutrition through a vein while the fistula heals.

In some cases where the fistula is not healing, surgery is necessary to remove the fistula and part of the intestines.

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well a patient does depends on their overall health and the cause and severity of the fistula. In otherwise healthy people, the outlook is excellent.

Possible Complications

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

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you have a significant change in bowel habits, especially severe diarrhea. Also call if you have any leakage of fluid from an opening on the abdomen or near the anus, especially if you have recently had abdominal surgery.


Lichtenstein GR. Inflammatory bowel disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 143.

Review Date: 5/1/2012
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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