Crohn’s disease belongs to the family of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). IBD involves chronic bowel inflammation, which can prevent you from absorbing nutrients and instead can lead to frequent diarrhea, abdominal pain and other complications. A complication that is typically associated with Crohn’s disease is the development of intestinal fistulas.
Intestinal fistulas develop when chronic inflammation causes painful sores or ulcers in the intestine. When the ulcers extend through multiple layers of tissue, they form abnormal tissue tubes called fistulas. These fistulas can connect the colon to other areas of the intestine or extend from the intestine to other organs. They can potentially cause the contents of the colon to go to other areas of the body, which can lead to fatal infections.
There are different types of fistulas depending on the location of the tunnel. These intestinal fistulas include:
Enteroenteric – connection from one area of the colon to another
Perianal – Connect the intestine to the skin near the anus
Enterovaginal – occurs between the large intestine and the vagina
Enterocutaneous form between the intestine and the wall of the abdominal cavity
Enterovesical – Connect an area of the colon to the bladder
In addition, people have developed fistulas that connect the intestines to the muscles and scrotum. Typically, the tubes that form between the intestine and other organs or tissues are more dangerous than those that are enteroenteric. Enteroenteric fistulas only bypass areas of the large intestine, but still release the contents into the intestine, where the cells specialize in processing this waste. Other areas such as the bladder are not equipped to deal with bacteria in the intestinal waste.
If the fistula forms from one area of the intestine to another, you may not notice any symptoms. These abnormal tubes can heal on their own. However, fistulas that cause drainage and other problems may require antibiotics, suppressants, or even surgery to heal.