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Rectovaginal Fistula Repair 1 Year Later: Lessons Learned.

INTRODUCTION: Rectovaginal (RV) fistulas are notoriously difficult to treat. Various methods for repair exist, and refinements in techniques can lead to "successful" outcomes. Review of the literature demonstrates that outcomes studies are scarce and mostly limited to comments on closure rate. We have experienced "success" in our own series with 100% closure rate, regardless of fistula etiology and comorbidities (radiation, inflammation, etc). However, long-term outcomes, including various complications and quality of life changes, have previously been underreported.

METHODS: Critical analysis of various outcomes after fistula repair in 14 patients was performed. Patients were surveyed and interviewed with regard to problems before and after fistula repair to obtain objective data focusing on their experience and outcomes. Conclusions are based on physician assessment and patient surveys 1 year after fistula repair and at least 6 months after ostomy reversal and are discussed within the context of data from the literature.

RESULTS: Overall satisfaction rate after repairs was high. All patients would undergo attempt at repair again regardless of complications or functional changes (not present before repair). After repair, sexual dyspareunia affected 5 patients (36%); however, most abstained from sexual activity when their RV fistula became apparent. No patient admitted to dyspareunia before the development of their RV fistula. Anal sphincter and defecation function, as well as stool continence, were judged by surgeons and patients uniformly as adequate. However, 3 patients (21%) complained of intermittent problems with urination. A new/different type of pain affected 2 of 4 patients with Crohn disease. One of these patients subsequently developed a new postsphincteric RV fistula. Another patient noted new intermittent vaginal discharge after ostomy reversal, and magnetic resonance imaging suggested a residual fistula, which was not seen on follow-up sigmoidoscopy and "Blue Dye Test."

CONCLUSIONS: We previously reported on algorithms for repair and refinements in techniques for "successful" repair of RV fistulas with zero recurrence rate. Long-term follow-up indicates, however, that although the overall satisfaction rate after surgery is high, true "success," defined as permanent fistula closure, is not necessarily problem free. Long-term morbidity and the management of other unique sequelae and problems are underreported.

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