ZocdocAnswersWhat is a fistula?

Question

What is a fistula?

My grandmother had to talk with an electronic voice box because of some operation she had on her throat. My mom remembers that it was due to a ""fistula"", but we don't know any more than that. What is a fistula and why would it lead to this kind of procedure? Am I at risk for the same thing?

Answer

A fistula is a generic term for any connection between two parts of the body that shouldn't form. Fistulas can be harmful because they allow for passage of contents of the body to places it should be. Therefore, fistulas are usually surgically removed. Fistulas develop after an area of the body has been damaged or infected. For example if your grandmother had an injury to her throat, the healing process could have caused an abnormal connection between the throat and the neck. Or perhaps an infection of the esophagus occurred and the healing process connected her esophagus with her larynx (voice box). Without knowing her past history, it is impossible to tell. One common reason that people develop problems in their throats that require surgery is throat cancer. Often time after an operation of the throat, abnormal fistulas can develop between the different chambers and tubes in that area. None of these causes should make you worried about being at risk. I suggest you schedule an appointment with your primary care physician. He or she can review your family history and determine if there is anything worrisome that you should be tested for. At the very least, you will get a piece of mind knowing about your risks. Good luck.

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