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Clin Colon Rectal Surg. 2006 Nov;19(4):237-46. doi: 10.1055/s-2006-956446.

Postoperative enterocutaneous fistula: when to reoperate and how to succeed.

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  • 1West County Surgical Specialists, Inc., St. Louis, MO 63141, USA. klgalie@yahoo.com


An enterocutaneous fistula (ECF) is a potentially catastrophic postoperative complication. Although the morbidity and mortality associated with ECF have decreased over the past 50 years with modern medical and surgical care, the overall mortality is still surprisingly high, up to 39% in recent literature. It seems prudent, then, for every surgeon to have a thorough grasp of optimal treatment strategies for ECF to minimize their patients' mortality. Ultimately, the algorithm must begin with prevention. Once an ECF is diagnosed, the first step is to resuscitate and treat sepsis. The second is to control fistula output. The third step is to optimize the patient medically and nutritionally. The last step is definitive restoration of gastrointestinal continuity when necessary. Special mention is given in this article to exceptionally refractory fistulas such as those arising in the presence of inflammatory bowel disease and irradiated bowel. This plan gives a framework for the difficult task of successfully treating the postoperative ECF with a multidisciplinary approach.


Enterocutaneous fistula; nutritional support; radiation enteritis; sepsis

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