A rectovaginal fistula may form as a result of:

  • Injuries during childbirth. Injuries during delivery are the most common cause of rectovaginal fistulas. Such injuries include tears in the perineum that extend to the bowel or an infection or tear of an episiotomy — a surgical incision to enlarge the perineum during vaginal delivery. These may happen following a long, difficult labor. Fistulas occurring from childbirth may also involve injury to your anal sphincter, the rings of muscle at the end of the rectum that help you hold in stool.
  • Crohn's disease. The second most common cause of rectovaginal fistulas, Crohn's disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease in which the lining of your digestive tract becomes inflamed. Most women with Crohn's disease never develop a rectovaginal fistula, but having Crohn's disease does increase your risk of the condition.
  • Cancer or radiation treatment in your pelvic area. A cancerous tumor in your rectum, cervix, vagina, uterus or anal canal can lead to development of a rectovaginal fistula. Radiation therapy for cancers in these areas can also put you at risk of developing a fistula. A fistula caused by radiation usually forms within two years following the treatment.
  • Surgery involving your vagina, perineum, rectum or anus. Prior surgery in your lower pelvic region, such as removal of your uterus (hysterectomy), in rare cases can lead to development of a fistula.
  • Other causes. Rarely, a rectovaginal fistula may be caused by infections in your anus or rectum; infections of small, bulging pouches in your digestive tract (diverticulitis); long-term inflammation of your colon and rectum (ulcerative colitis); or vaginal injury other than during childbirth.
Nov. 15, 2012

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