What Is a Vaginal Fistula?

A vaginal fistula is an abnormal opening that connects your vagina to another organ. For example, a vaginal fistula can link your vagina to your:

  • Bladder
  • Ureters, the tubes that carry your pee from your kidneys to your bladder
  • Urethra, the tube that carries your pee down from your bladder and outside your body
  • Rectum, the lower part of your large intestine
  • Large intestine
  • Small intestine

Vaginal fistulas can be upsetting and embarrassing because they leak and cause bad smells. But they can also cause complications, like:

  • Vaginal or urinary tract infections that keep coming back
  • Hygiene problems
  • Stool or gas that leaks through the vagina
  • Irritated or inflamed skin around your vagina or anus
  • An abscess -- a swollen clump of infected tissue with pus that could be life-threatening if it’s not treated
  • Fistulas that come back

Women who have Crohn’s disease and develop a fistula have a high risk of getting complications, such as fistulas forming again later or fistulas that don’t properly heal.

What Causes Vaginal Fistulas?

Most often, the culprit is tissue damage that can result from any of the following:

  • Abdominal surgery (hysterectomy or C-section)
  • Pelvic, cervical, or colon cancer
  • Radiation treatment
  • Bowel disease like Crohn’s or diverticulitis
  • Infection (including after an episiotomy or a tear you had when you gave birth) 
  • Traumatic injury, such as from a car accident

What’s the Treatment?

Some fistulas may heal on their own. If it’s a small bladder fistula, your doctor might want to try putting a small tube called a catheter into your bladder to drain the pee and give the fistula time to heal by itself.

He might also want to try a special glue or plug made of natural proteins to seal or fill the fistula. Still, many people need surgery. What kind of surgery you get depends on the type of fistula and where it is. It could be laparoscopic, where your doctor makes small cuts (incisions) and uses cameras and tools. Or it could be abdominal surgery, where you get a regular incision with a tool called a scalpel.

For a vaginal fistula that connects to your rectum, your doctor might:

  • Sew a special patch over the fistula
  • Take tissue from your body to close the fistula
  • Fold a flap of healthy tissue over the fistula
  • Fix the muscles of your anus if they are damaged

Your doctor will likely also prescribe an antibiotic to treat infection caused by the fistula.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on January 30, 2019



Mayo Clinic: “Vaginal Fistula,” “Rectovaginal Fistula.”

UCLA Health: “Vesicovaginal Fistula.”

Medscape: “Vesicovaginal and Ureterovaginal Fistula,” “Vesicovaginal and Ureterovaginal Fistula Treatment & Management.”

UpToDate: “Urogenital Tract Fistulas In Women.”

American Urological Association: “What Is Bladder Fistula?”

Loyola Medicine: “Vaginal, Urinary and Anal Fistulas.”

National Association for Continence: “Fistula.”

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