Crohn’s disease can have many symptoms and complications regardless of age, ethnicity, or gender. Because there are different areas of the digestive tract where Crohn’s disease can attack, not all people with Crohn’s disease have the same complications. For example, it is not uncommon for a person with a severe case of Crohn’s to develop a fistula.
What is a fistula? It is a small tunnel that abnormally connects two organs or body cavities (i.e. the bladder with the rectum) or an organ with the skin (i.e. the outside of the body with the rectum ). All fistulas, no matter where they occur, eventually end up in an organ, body cavity, or skin surface. It is estimated that one third (30%) of people infected with Crohn’s disease develop fistulas.
Fistulas can form from ulcers and abscesses; Fistulas can also lead to an abscess. An abscess can develop inside or outside the body. An abscess is usually a sac that fills with pus and is difficult to heal because it is often constantly filled with bodily fluids such as urine and feces.
An abscess that forms on the skin can be very similar to a boil and looks swollen and red in the area. An abscess is also painful and feels hot. In Crohn’s disease, abscesses usually form around the anus, genitals, or abdomen. Eventually, it forms pus and continues to grow until it bursts.
Abscesses that occur in the body usually form in an organ or in a space between two organs. An internal abscess usually makes a person sick, especially if the abscess breaks. If an abscess is diagnosed, it is often treated with antibiotics, or if it is on the skin, it may be stung (the abscesses are opened so that the pus can drain and heal).
There are 4 different types of fistulas:
- Enterocutaneous – a fistula that connects the stomach to the skin
- Enteroenteric (enterocolic) – fistula that affects the small or large intestine
- Enterovaginal – a fistula that connects the vagina to another body cavity or organ.
- Enterovesicular – a fistula that connects the bladder to another body cavity or organ.
In addition to the formation of an abscess in the affected area, fistulas can lead to many complications. For example, a fistula associated with the bladder can lead to constant urinary tract infections.
If you have Crohn’s disease and think you have a fistula or want to know what to look for, the following symptoms are often associated with the disease:
o Pain, itching and tenderness in the affected area
o Emptying of pus
o Discharge that has a bad smell
o Does not generally feel well
As with any illness, symptoms can vary. However, most of the symptoms usually relate to the area where the fistula is located.
A fistula is diagnosed by a specialist through special examinations such as a barium enema, colonoscopy, and fistulous. After diagnosis, the fistula can be treated. Commonly prescribed medical treatments for this condition include antibiotics and suppressants. If the fistula does not respond to medical treatment, surgery may be necessary.