Purpose: Symptomatic perianal fistulas impair quality of life in patients with Crohn's disease. Fecal diversion improves symptoms but may impair quality of life. This study was designed to compare long-term quality of life in patients with Crohn's disease with symptomatic perianal fistulas who were treated with or without fecal diversion.
Methods: From 1996 to 2002, perianal fistulas were treated in 116 patients with Crohn's disease. A questionnaire, including four quality of life instruments, was mailed to each patient (Short-Form General Health Survey, Gastrointestinal Quality of Life Index, Cleveland Global Quality of Life Score, Short Inflammatory Bowel Disease Questionnaire).
Results: Questionnaires were returned by 77 of 116 patients (66 percent). Thirty-four of these patients had undergone fecal diversion, whereas 43 had not. Median follow-up was 49 (range, 18-97) months in diverted and 44 (range, 14-98) months in undiverted patients (not significant). In the diverted group, 44 percent complained of Crohn's disease-related symptoms, which was less compared with 79 percent in undiverted patients (P < 0.05). Diverted patients achieved 68 +/- 1 percent of the maximum possible score on the Gastrointestinal Quality of Life Index compared with 60 +/- 2 percent in undiverted patients (mean +/- standard error of the mean; P < 0.001); diverted patients scored better on the subscale "gastrointestinal symptoms" of the Gastrointestinal Quality of Life Index (81 +/- 1 percent vs. 67 +/- 2 percent; P < 0.001). There was no difference in the Short Inflammatory Bowel Disease Questionnaire between diverted and undiverted patients except for the subscale "bowel function" (91 +/- 2 percent vs. 76 +/- 2 percent; P < 0.0001). No difference in quality of life was detected by the Short-Form General Health Survey and Cleveland Global Quality of Life Score.
Conclusions: In the investigated population of patients with Crohn's disease, quality of life seems to be similar or potentially superior in diverted patients suffering from perianal fistulas compared with undiverted patients. A diverting stoma, therefore, may improve quality of life in patients with severe perianal Crohn's disease.