Living with a Fistula

Some people with Crohn's Disease or Ulcerative Colitis (the two main forms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease - IBD) may develop a fistula. A fistula is an abnormal channel or passageway connecting one internal organ to another, or to the outside surface of the body. Many fistulas (or fistulae) involve the bowel or intestine. So, a fistula might connect two parts of the bowel to each other, or the bowel to the vagina, bladder, or skin. About one in three people with Crohn’s will probably develop a fistula at some time. Fistulas are much less common in people with Ulcerative Colitis.

This information provides some general information about these fistulas and likely treatments. It also includes tips and suggestions which may help you if you are living with a fistula. These are based on the advice of health professionals and the experiences of Crohn’s & Colitis UK members with this condition. 

It is estimated that around one in four people with Crohn’s Disease will develop a fistula at some time. Fistulas are much less common in Ulcerative Colitis, and only occur in around one in 35 people. Although fistulas are associated with Crohn's and Colitis, they can occur several years before the condition is diagnosed. While rarely life-threatening, fistulas can decrease people’s quality of life and often need combined medical and surgical treatment.

Are there different types of fistula?
What about anal fistulas?
What causes a fistula?
What are the symptoms of a fistula?
How are fistulas diagnosed?
What treatments are available for fistulas?
What if these treatments do not work?
How can I manage my fistula on a day-to-day basis?
What should I get together in a kit to help manage my fistula more easily?
When should I seek medical help?
What other help can I get?
Help and support from Crohn's & Colitis UK
How we write our information

Last reviewed: December 2016