Obstructed labor injury complex: obstetric fistula formation and the multifaceted morbidity of maternal birth trauma in the developing world

Obstet Gynecol Surv. 1996 Sep;51(9):568-74. doi: 10.1097/00006254-199609000-00024.


Prolonged obstructed labor may produce injuries to multiple organ systems. The best known, and most common, of these injuries is obstetric fistula formation. When obstructed labor is unrelieved, the presenting fetal part is impacted against the soft tissues of the pelvis and a widespread ischemic vascular injury develops that results in tissue necrosis and subsequent fistula formation. Unlike the postsurgical vesicovaginal fistula, however, which is usually the result of focal trauma to otherwise healthy tissues, the obstetric fistula is the result of a "field injury" to a broad area. The field injury that is produced by prolonged obstructed labor may result in multiple birth-related injuries in addition to (or instead of) a vesicovaginal fistula. Focusing simply on the "hole" between the bladder and the vagina ignores the multifaceted nature of the injury that many of these patients have sustained. These injuries may include total urethral loss, stress incontinence, hydroureteronephrosis, renal failure, rectovaginal fistula formation, rectal atresia, anal sphincter incompetence, cervical destruction, amenorrhea, pelvic inflammatory disease, secondary infertility, vaginal stenosis, osteitis pubis, and foot-drop. In addition to their physical injuries, women who have experienced prolonged obstructed labor often develop serious social problems, including divorce, exclusion from religious activities, separation from their families, worsening poverty, malnutrition, and almost unendurable suffering. Isolated almost exclusively to the developing world, particularly Africa, this problem has not received the international attention that it deserves, from either a medical or a social standpoint.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Africa / epidemiology
  • Aged
  • Developing Countries*
  • Dystocia / complications*
  • Ethiopia / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Labor Presentation
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Trauma / epidemiology
  • Multiple Trauma / etiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Syndrome
  • Vesicovaginal Fistula / complications*
  • Vesicovaginal Fistula / epidemiology
  • Vesicovaginal Fistula / etiology
  • Vesicovaginal Fistula / surgery