A Novel MRI and Clinical-Based Scoring System to Assess Post-Surgery Healing and to Predict Long-Term Healing in Cryptoglandular Anal Fistulas

Clin Exp Gastroenterol. 2022 Feb 17:15:27-40. doi: 10.2147/CEG.S343254. eCollection 2022.


Background: Anal fistulas cause great uncertainty and anxiety in patients and surgeons alike. This is largely because of the inability to accurately confirm postoperative fistula healing, especially long-term healing. There is no scoring system available that can objectively assess cryptoglandular anal fistulas for postoperative healing and can also accurately predict long-term healing.

Methods: Several parameters that could indicate anal fistula healing were assessed. Out of these, six parameters (four MRI-based and two clinical) were finalized, and a weighted score was given to each parameter. A novel scoring system (NSS) was developed. A minimum possible score (zero) indicated complete healing whereas the maximum weighted score (n = 20) indicated confirmed non-healing. Scoring was done with postoperative MRI (at least 3 months post-surgery), then compared with the actual healing status, and subsequently correlated with the final long-term clinical outcome.

Results: The NSS was validated in 183 operated cryptoglandular fistula-in-ano patients over a 3-year period in whom 283 MRIs (preoperative plus postoperative) were performed. The postoperative follow-up was 12-48 months (median-30 months). The NSS was found to have a very high positive predictive value (98.2%) and moderately high negative predictive value (83.7%) for long-term fistula healing. Additionally, its sensitivity and specificity in predicting healing were 93.9% and 94.7%, respectively.

Conclusion: Thus, this new scoring system is highly accurate and would be a useful tool for surgeons and radiologists managing anal fistulas. By objectivizing the assessment of postoperative healing, it can both ease and streamline management. Moreover, reliable prediction of recurrence-free long-term healing will greatly allay the apprehensions associated with this dreaded disease.

Keywords: MRI; anal fistula; healing; internal opening; postoperative; scoring system.