Vesicovaginal and Ureterovaginal Fistula Treatment & Management

Updated: Oct 21, 2021
  • Author: M Francesca Monn, MD; Chief Editor: Bradley Fields Schwartz, DO, FACS  more...
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Treatment

Approach Considerations

No medical therapy is available for the management of vesicovaginal and ureterovaginal fistula. However, conjugated estrogen (oral or transvaginal) helps vaginal tissues become softer and more pliable for upcoming fistula repair. This is especially important for postmenopausal women and women with atrophic vaginitis. [14]

For personal hygiene and skin care, sitz baths with a solution of permanganate or baking soda douches may be helpful.

For a small fistula, an initial trial of urethral catheter drainage may be attempted for 4-6 weeks. However, catheter drainage and/or fulguration of the edges of the fistula tract less often results in a cure. Small fistulae have a higher likelihood of healing with catheterization. In the rare series of patients who were successfully managed with fulguration, optimal results were achieved in patients who had longer and narrower fistulas, as opposed to short and wide ones. Similarly, ureteral stents can result in spontaneous closure of ureterovaginal fistulae, particularly in the setting of small, non-radiation associated fistulae. 

Vesicovaginal and ureterovaginal fistulae recognized within 3-7 days after the causative operation may be repaired immediately via a transabdominal or transvaginal approach. Fistulae identified after 7-10 days postoperatively should be monitored periodically until all signs of inflammation and induration have resolved. Before embarking on fistula repair, the fistula tract should be well epithelialized and the vaginal wall should be soft and supple.

In the past, surgical repair of any vesicovaginal fistula before 3 months was discouraged for fear of recurrence and inadequate healing. However,  the principle of delayed repair is no longer absolute. The timing of fistula repair is now dictated by the nature of the local tissues around the fistula site. Surgical repair may commence if no vaginal infection is present and if the inflammatory process at the fistula site has resolved. Some surgeons have successfully closed fistulae with or without using a tissue interposition, such as Martius flap or peritoneal flap, without waiting 3-4 months. The main concern with early intervention is that satisfactory tissue quality and healing must be evident or the surgery may not have a satisfactory result.

Patients with a history of multiple failed repairs, patients with associated enteric fistula with pelvic phlegmon, and patients with a history of pelvic radiation should not undergo fistula repair for at least 6-8 months.

The presence of an active vaginal infection or persistent inflammatory or malignant process at the fistula site is a contraindication to surgical repair. Historically, the transvaginal approach has been contraindicated for supratrigonal fistulae. However, this is no longer an absolute contraindication. Whether to use a transabdominal or transvaginal approach is now dictated by the surgeon's experience and preference and ease of access to the fistula site.

Use of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) as both a novel primary treatment for closure of vesicovaginal fistula and as an adjuvant treatment to improve surgical wound healing have shown promising outcomes in reported cases and small series. [15, 16, 17]

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Surgical Therapy

The main goal in correcting vesicovaginal fistula is to separate the fistulous communication between the bladder and the vagina. This can be accomplished by inserting interposing tissue between the 2 organs and obtaining a watertight tension-free closure.

Pinpoint fistulae may respond to conservative management with urethral catheter drainage and fulguration of the fistulous tract, but success rates may be low. Persistent incontinence after an adequate period of watchful waiting requires open exploration and formal fistula repair.

Historically, the site of the fistula and surgeon familiarity often dictated the surgical approach. Supratrigonal fistulas (fistulas above the interureteric ridge) were typically approached transabdominally. Infratrigonal fistulas (fistulas below the interureteric ridge) were corrected transvaginally.

A history of previous failed repairs does not preclude transvaginal reconstruction. Fistulae located in the infratrigonal area, fistulae near the bladder neck, and those occurring after hysterectomy are usually amenable to transvaginal reconstruction. Transvaginal repairs do not require excision of the fistula tract. [18]

In corrections of extensive fistulae after radiation therapy, a combined transvaginal and transabdominal approach with fixation of the omentum or peritoneal flaps in the space between the vagina and urinary bladder is often useful. Increasingly, this is being done with minimally invasive techniques, laparoscopically or robotically. [19, 20, 5]  However, there have been no large studies that compare transvaginal repair to minimally invasive transabdominal approaches. [21]

Ureterovaginal fistulae may be treated with an internal stent and often will close spontaneously. [11] However, persistent fistulas despite stent placement warrant surgical exploration and ureteral reimplantation either through an open or minimally invasive approach.

It is important to note that the basic rule for fistula repair is that the first operation has the best chance of success, and surgeons should use the approach with which they feel most comfortable. All adjuncts should be included to ensure successful closure of the fistula.

Images of repair techniques are depicted below.

This patient developed a supratrigonal vesicovagin This patient developed a supratrigonal vesicovaginal fistula immediately over the right ureteral orifice after transabdominal hysterectomy for uterine fibroids. The right ureteral orifice has been cannulated with a ureteral catheter to prevent injury to the ureteral orifice during the fistula repair. A Foley catheter has been inserted into the bladder. A transvaginal repair was performed.

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Percutaneous suprapubic tube is placed prior to re Percutaneous suprapubic tube is placed prior to repair of a supratrigonal vesicovaginal fistula.
The supratrigonal vesicovaginal fistula site is ma The supratrigonal vesicovaginal fistula site is marked out.
Supratrigonal vesicovaginal fistula. Isotonic sodi Supratrigonal vesicovaginal fistula. Isotonic sodium chloride is injected into the anterior vaginal wall to facilitate hydrodissection.
Supratrigonal vesicovaginal fistula. A J-shaped in Supratrigonal vesicovaginal fistula. A J-shaped incision is made, and the anterior vaginal wall is dissected off proximally and distally to the fistula. The fistula site is not excised. A generous flap is created anteriorly and posteriorly to the fistula site. Surgical sutures have been placed in the fistula to close the site.
Supratrigonal vesicovaginal fistula. Surgical sutu Supratrigonal vesicovaginal fistula. Surgical sutures are tied, and the fistula is closed.
Supratrigonal vesicovaginal fistula. Reinforcing t Supratrigonal vesicovaginal fistula. Reinforcing tissue layers are used to cover up the fistula site in a nonoverlapping fashion. In this case, peritoneum followed by pubocervical fascia was used.
Supratrigonal vesicovaginal fistula. Vaginal wall Supratrigonal vesicovaginal fistula. Vaginal wall is closed.
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Preoperative Details

Informed consent discussions should include potential risks. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Ureteral injury
  • Bladder injury
  • Bowel injury
  • Recurrence of fistula
  • Persistent fistula
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • De novo urinary dysfunction
  • Bleeding
  • Infection

Inform the patient if a Martius fat pad or gracilis muscle flap will be used.

Postoperatively there may be long-term impact on sexual function and urinary continence even after a successful repair, defined as anatomical closure. The most common reasons cited for sexual dysfunction include urinary incontinence and pain with intercourse. A large fistula (> 3 cm) and decreased vaginal caliber are associated with the highest rate of sexual dysfunction. [7]  Although a transvaginal approach is thought to shorten the vagina, sexual dysfunction appears to be similar in transvaginal and transabdominal repaired fistulae. Patients may develop de novo urinary urge or stress incontinence. [7, 8]  

Preexisting urinary tract infection should be cleared, and preoperative conjugated estrogen therapy is helpful. Broad-spectrum intravenous antibiotics are administered preoperatively.

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Intraoperative Details

Vesicovaginal Fistula Repair

Vesicovaginal fistulae can be repaired via a transvaginal, transabdominal, or laparoscopic and robotic approaches.

Transvaginal approach

Place the patient in a dorsal lithotomy position. Insert a percutaneous suprapubic tube and urethral catheter. Insert a posterior-weighted vaginal speculum and place a self-retaining vaginal retractor.

Identify the fistula and place traction sutures on the vaginal mucosa next to the fistula site. For traction, a small urethral catheter (8F) is inserted into the fistula. If the tract is very small, dilate the fistula to an acceptable size for urethral catheter insertion. The use of Fogarty balloon catheters and expensive catheters is unwarranted and adds unnecessarily to the expense of the procedure, as a regular (albeit smaller) Foley catheter usually suffices.

Using an inverted J-shaped incision, circumscribe the fistula site. Dissect the anterior vaginal wall off the underlying pubocervical fascia. Close the fistula tract (bladder mucosa) vertically using 2-0 or 3-0 absorbable sutures in a watertight fashion. Close the pubocervical fascia using 2-0 or 3-0 absorbable sutures horizontally. An additional layer of peritoneal-based flap from the posterior incision can be placed as a third layer. Excise the redundant vaginal mucosa. Approximate the vaginal incision using 2-0 absorbable sutures, without causing an overlapping suture line. Place Betadine-soaked packing in the vagina.

Alternatively, a Latzko partial colpocleisis technique can be used. In this technique, 2 concentric circular incisions around the fistula tract are made. The vaginal mucosa is excised in quadrants. The fistulous tract, pubocervical fascia, and vaginal mucosa are closed in layers, without overlapping suture lines.

When closure is difficult or tenuous, a Martius fat pad (pedicle flap) may be harvested from the labia majora and interposed. A cylindrical bundle of bulbocavernosus and pedicled fat are developed carefully, preserving the superior external pudendal artery. A capacious tunnel under the vaginal mucosa between the labia majora and the fistula site is then developed. The labial pedicle flap is brought through the vaginal mucosal tunnel and sutured to the edges of the fistula repair. The vaginal mucosa then is closed over the fat pad.

Transabdominal approach

Place the patient in a modified lithotomy position or supine depending on surgeon preference. Insert a urethral catheter. Make an infraumbilical incision and carry it down into the peritoneal cavity. Expose the pouch of Douglas. Completely mobilize the bladder and bivalve it at the dome. Identify the ureteral orifices and the fistula tract.

Cannulate both ureteral orifices with pediatric feeding tubes for easy identification. Circumscribe and excise the fistula. Separate the bladder from the vagina. Close the bladder with sequential 2-0 or 3-0 absorbable sutures after the vaginal closure is completed.

If omental interposition is performed, the abdominal incision should be carried to the epigastrium, with mobilization of the omentum. Separate avascular adhesions to the transverse colon. Divide and ligate the left gastroepiploic and short gastric vessels. Mobilize the omentum using the right gastroepiploic pedicle. Medially mobilize the ascending colon and hepatic flexure. Pass the omentum, which is hinged on the right gastroepiploic artery, behind the ascending colon and into the pelvis.

Close the vagina using 2-0 absorbable sutures. Suture the distal aspect of the omentum to the distal limits of the space between the vagina and the bladder. Complete the bladder closure in 1-2 layers. Put the suprapubic tube and pelvic drains in place.

If ureteral reimplantation is necessary, dissect out the ureter prior to fistulectomy. Reimplant the ureter in the upper bladder wall after the fistula is closed with or without adjunct procedures such as a psoas hitch or boari flap. The ureter should be stented postoperatively.

Laparoscopic and robotic approaches

In the era of more minimally invasive management (MIS), increasing experience in the use of robotic and laparoscopic technologies has yielded successes with vesicovaginal fistulae repairs. [22, 23]  Adherence to similar principles as in open abdominal repair with use of interposition grafts and layered closures has produced reports of successful repair. Often, there is a fair amount of scarring and extravasation in the area of the fistula, which may affect the quality of the repair. Nonetheless, the use of MIS technology for this type of repair is increasing. [21]

Successful laparoscopic repair of a recurrent vesicovaginal fistula using the transvesical approach guided by cystoscopy has been reported. [24]

Ureterovaginal Fistula Repair

Position the patient in dorsal lithotomy or supine position based on surgeon preference and make a lower midline incision. Dissect out the ureter and trace this distally to the bladder. Dissect the bladder off of the vagina to ensure that the ureterovaginal fistula has been fully exposed. Transect the ureter as distally as possible. Closure of the distal ureter at the bladder can be performed with an absorbable or permanent suture such as a 2-0 silk tie. Closure of the vaginal side of the fistula can be performed using 2-0 or 3-0 absorbable suture. An interposition flap can be placed using omentum, peritoneum, or gracilis muscle. The ureter then requires reimplantation into the bladder with or without psoas hitch. Stenting is recommended for 4-6 weeks following the reimplantation.  

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Postoperative Details

Continue intravenous antibiotics for at least 24 hours perioperatively . To prevent bladder spasms, prescribe anticholinergics or beta adrenergic medications.  Pelvic drains can be tested for a urine leak prior to removal prior to discharge from the hospital.  

Many surgeons choose to keep a urethral catheter in place for 2-3 weeks and any stent for a ureterovaginal fistula repair in place for 4-6 weeks. 

 

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Complications

Potential complications associated with repairing large vesicovaginal and ureterovaginal fistulae include the development of transient vesicoureteral reflux or de novo detrusor instability. Reflux and bladder spasms often resolve spontaneously with anticholinergic or beta-adrenergic therapy.

If a large fistula is present, the nearby ureteral orifice is at risk of becoming obstructed during the repair. If this is the case, the ureter must be reimplanted during the initial operation. The most feared complication is the recurrence of fistula. If this occurs, a proper waiting period is advised. The subsequent repair should be performed with a Martius flap, peritoneal interposition, or gracilis muscle flap.

Complications associated with ureterovaginal fistula repair include urinary extravasation and ureteral stricture formation. Persistent urinary leak can be treated with percutaneous nephrostomy drainage, ureteral stent(s), and/or Foley catheter drainage. For short ureteral strictures, minimally invasive endoscopic treatments can be used.

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Long-Term Monitoring

Remove the urethral catheter and perform cystography 2-3 weeks following surgery. Alternatively, intravesical methylene blue may be used. If extravasation is not evident, the suprapubic tube may also be removed. If a persistent leak is present, leave the suprapubic tube in place and perform cystography 2 weeks later. When the cystogram does not define extravasation, the suprapubic tube may be removed.

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