Purpose: Fibrin glue has been used to treat anal fistulas in an attempt to avoid more radical surgical intervention. Reported success rates vary widely. The purpose of this study was to review the use of fibrin glue in the management of complex anal fistulas at a tertiary referral center.
Methods: This study was designed as a retrospective review of all patients treated with fibrin glue injection for complex anal fistulas in the Section of Colon and Rectal Surgery, Washington University School of Medicine/Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Demographics, previous treatment, operative information, and early follow-up were obtained from the patients' medical records. Phone interviews were conducted to determine successful healing or recurrence of fistulas requiring further treatment. Statistical analysis was by Fisher's exact test. The institutional review board approved the study.
Results: A total of 42 patients (19 males; median age, 44 (range, 20-76) years) were treated between 1999 and 2002. Three patients were lost to follow-up and were excluded from the study. Etiology of fistulas were cryptoglandular (n = 22), Crohn's disease (n = 13), or coloanal and ileal pouch-anal anastomotic (n = 4). Fistulas were classified as deep transsphincteric (n = 33), superficial transsphincteric (n = 1), supralevator (n = 2), or rectovaginal (n = 3). Initially, most patients had "closure" of the fistula but recrudescence was common. Durable healing was only achieved in 31 percent (12/39). Healing rates by etiology were cryptoglandular 23 percent (5/22), Crohn's disease 31 percent (4/13), and ileal pouch-anal anastomotic 75 percent (3/4; P = 0.14). Success rates by classification were deep transsphincteric 33 percent (11/33), superficial transsphincteric 0 percent (0/1), supralevator 0 percent (0/2), and rectovaginal 33 percent (1/3; P = 1). The success rate for patients with no previous treatment was 38 percent (8/21) vs. 22 percent (4/18) in those whose fistulas had been previously treated ( P = 0.32). Eight patients underwent a second fibrin glue treatment and only one of them healed (12.5 percent). Median follow-up for successfully healed fistula was 26 months.
Conclusions: Fibrin glue treatment for complex anal fistulas has a low success rate and most recrudescences occurred within three months. However, given the low morbidity and relative simplicity of the procedure, fibrin glue should still be considered as a first-line treatment for patients with complex anal fistulas.