Pelvic Floor Disorders
Women's Medicine Collaborative

Information and Treatment for Rectovaginal Fistula

What Is a Rectovaginal Fistula?

A rectovaginal fistula is an abnormal tunnel or passage between the rectum and vagina.

What Causes a Rectovaginal Fistula?

Rectovaginal fistulas can be a result of childbirth, infection, cancer or radiation treatment, surgical trauma, and inflammatory bowel disease, as well as other causes.

What Are the Common Symptoms of a Rectovaginal Fistula?

The most frequent symptoms are passage of gas or liquid stool into the vagina. Patients may also have a smelly vaginal discharge and recurrent vaginitis.

What Can I Do about a Rectovaginal Fistula?

Many patients are embarrassed to talk about their symptoms with their doctor, but a frank discussion is necessary. Some rectovaginal fistulas may close on their own, but most will require surgery.

What Treatment Is Available for a Rectovaginal Fistula?

An individualized care plan based on the rectovaginal fistula’s size, location, and cause will produce the best outcome. Some rectovaginal fistulas may close on their own, but most need surgical repair.

Using medical management to allow inflammation or infection to resolve before surgery is vital. Various surgical techniques are employed. However, repairs are prone to failure.

When Should I Make an Appointment with a Specialist?

Discuss your symptoms with your doctor, and he or she will refer you to a specialist for care. Surgery to close a rectovaginal fistula may be done by a gynecologic surgeon, a colorectal surgeon or both working as a team. The Women’s Medicine Collaborative has specialists who can help.

Learn more about treatment for pelvic floor disorders at Lifespan