Master Class

A rare but debilitating diagnosis in developed countries


Vesicovaginal fistula continues to be the most common form of genitourinary fistula, with resultant diminishment in quality of life secondary to physical and psychosocial distress. While it has been reported that 1 million women in Sub-Saharan Africa have untreated vesicovaginal fistula secondary to obstetric trauma, vesicovaginal fistulas are relatively rare in the United States. Per the United States National Hospital Discharge Survey, in 2007, fewer than 5,000 vesicovaginal fistula repairs were performed out of over 2.3 million procedures involving the female urinary and genital system.

Dr. Charles E. Miller, a minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon in Naperville, Ill., and a past president of the AAGL.

Dr. Charles E. Miller

The rarity of the diagnosis is also reflected in data collected from the English National Health Service, where vesicovaginal fistula occurred in 1 in 788 hysterectomies (although more common in radical hysterectomy, at 1 in 87).

In a recent systematic review and meta-analysis on the management of vesicovaginal fistulas in women following benign gynecologic surgery, Bodner-Adler et al. evaluated 282 full-text articles to identify 124 studies for inclusion (PLoS One. 2017 Feb 22;12[2]:e0171554). Only ten studies involved solely conservative management with prolonged bladder drainage. Dismal success was noted: 8%. Surgery was performed in 96.4% of cases (1379/1430); transvaginal in 39%, transabdominal/transvesical in 36%, laparoscopic/robotic approach in 15%, and transabdominal/transvaginal in 3%. Overall success rate in these surgical cases was 97.98% (95% confidence interval, 96.13%-99.29%); with similar procedural success: transvaginal, 89.96%-97.49%; transabdominal/transvesical, 94.55%-99.18%; and laparoscopic/robotic, 96.85%-99.99%. Studies are very limited comparing the various surgical techniques, with only one study comparing transvaginal, transabdominal, and laparoscopic approaches. Interestingly, in this study, the laparoscopic approach was noted to have the least morbidity (Ou CS et al. J Lapraoendosc Adv Surg Tech A. 2004 Feb;14(1):17-21).

For this edition of the Master Class in Gynecologic Surgery, I have enlisted the assistance of Alan D. Garely, MD, FACOG, FACS, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York. Dr. Garely has served on the board of directors for the American Urogynecologic Society, serves as chair of the gynecology and obstetrics advisory board for the American College of Surgeons, and has published numerous papers and book chapters.

It is a pleasure to welcome Dr. Garely to this edition of the Master Class in Gynecologic Surgery.

Dr. Miller is a minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon in Naperville, Ill., and a past president of the AAGL. He has no disclosures related to this column.

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