Fistulas are unnatural holes or connections between bodily vessels or organs.
Fistulas appear throughout the body, but often concentrate in the organs of the genital and urinary systems. Urinary organ system members include the urethra, ureter, urinary bladder, and kidneys. The testes, prostate gland, penis, vagina, uterus, and ovaries are examples of genital system organs.
The structure of various genitourinary organs makes them vulnerable to injuries like fistulas. For example, the ureters are organs that carry urine from the kidneys to the urinary bladder.
Illness or injury can cause these tube-like formations to rupture and leak waste materials into body cavities.
Genitourinary fistulas are caused by factors that include disease, physical deformities, and physical trauma.
A number of bacteria and viruses cause urinary tract disease and infections. Given time, these infections can cause blockages, inflammation, and significant damage to urogenital organs. In some cases, these outbreaks can result in fistula formation.
Congenital or developmental deformities can also cause fistulas to form between nearby organs or vessels. An example of this is the recto-vaginal fistula, which is an abnormal connection between the bowel and the vagina. This condition can strike some girls at birth, and often requires major medical intervention.
Physical traumas can also bring about fistula damage, and common culprits include blunt force, penetrating, and crushing force injuries. For example, car accidents are traumatic events that strike millions of people every year, and often generate significant impact forces. Steering wheels that strike drivers on their lower abdomens can cause rupture-type injuries like fistulas.
Symptoms of Genitourinary Fistulas
The human body is a dynamic living system that constantly performs many metabolic functions. These metabolic functions are vital to life, and they often generate waste products that include urine and feces. Under normal circumstances, healthy people have control over their urination and defecation instincts. Genitourinary fistulas can cause people to lose control over their voiding muscles, and this, in turn, can result in involuntary waste releases. This condition is called incontinence.
While incontinence is a major symptom of many kinds of fistulas, it is not the only one. Other common symptoms include:
Individuals who experience such symptoms following physical traumas or other illnesses may be suffering from genitourinary fistulas.
How are Genitourinary Fistulas Treated?
While fistulas can be painful and debilitating, medical professionals can often effectively deal with both the symptoms and the underlying causes of genitourinary fistulas. Urologists and other skilled doctors provide patients with diagnostic support that includes detailed medical histories, physical exams, and laboratory tests.
During initial visits, physicians interview patients to get specific information about symptoms and possible causes. They ask patients for historical information about their health, past illnesses, lifestyle, and other factors. Genitourinary specialists also perform physical examinations that give them clues as to the location, type, and severity level of possible fistulas.
Doctors follow these examinations up with more in-depth examinations. They may order blood tests in order to find possible infectious agents, and they also have access to powerful imaging equipment that can give them visual information about internal injuries. Abdominal computed tomography (CT) scans and x-rays are commonly used fistula imaging technologies.
Treatments for genitourinary fistulas can range from corrective surgeries to less invasive measures like antibiotic treatments. Common fistula procedures include: