Background: Enterocutaneous fistula has traditionally been associated with substantial morbidity and mortality, related to fluid, electrolyte and metabolic disturbance, sepsis and malnutrition.
Methods: A retrospective review of enterocutaneous fistula in 277 consecutive patients treated over an 11-year period in a major tertiary referral centre was undertaken to evaluate current management practice and outcome.
Results: Most fistulas occurred secondary to abdominal surgery, and a high proportion (52.7 per cent) occurred in association with inflammatory bowel disease. A low rate of spontaneous healing was observed (19.9 per cent). The healing rate after definitive fistula surgery was 82.0 per cent, although more than one attempt was required to achieve surgical closure in some patients. Definitive fistula resection resulted in a mortality rate of 3.0 per cent. In addition, one patient died after laparotomy for intra-abdominal sepsis and an additional 24 patients died from complications of fistulation, giving an overall fistula-related mortality rate of 10.8 per cent.
Conclusion: Early recognition and control of sepsis, management of fluid and electrolyte imbalances, meticulous wound care and nutritional support appear to reduce the mortality rate, and allow spontaneous fistula closure in some patients. Definitive surgical management is performed only after restitution of normal physiology, usually after at least 6 months.
Copyright 2004 British Journal of Surgery Society Ltd.