Background: Crohn's anal fistulas are common and cause considerable morbidity. Their management is often difficult; medical and surgical treatments rarely lead to true healing with frequent recurrence and complications.
Aim: To examine medical treatments previously and currently used, surgical techniques and the important role of optimal imaging.
Methods: We conducted a literature search in the Pub Med database using Crohn's, Anal Fistula, Surgery, Imaging and Medical Treatment as search terms.
Results: Antibiotics and immunosuppressants have a role, but slow initial response, side effects and relatively low remission rates of up to around a third with frequent recurrence limit their value. Long-term infliximab produces clinical remission in 36-58% of patients with combined medical and surgical management achieving optimal outcomes. Traditional and newer surgical procedures often have a high rate of recurrence with a significant risk of temporary or, in up to 10% of cases, permanent stomas, incontinence and unhealed or slowly healing wounds in 30%.
Conclusions: Management of Crohn's anal fistulas remains challenging. Established principles are to drain infection, use setons as required, aggressively manage active proctitis, give antibiotics, immunosuppressants and employ anti-TNFα therapy, and they demand significant co-operation between gastroenterologists and surgeons.
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.