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Surgery is the main treatment of digestive fistulas (DF) but its role has changed over the last 40 years. The aim of this
review is to analyze the surgical management of DF paying attention to timing and type of surgery.
METHODS: We performed a review considering the following electronic databases: Medline, Cochrane Database of Systematic
Reviews, Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, EMBASE and the
reference lists of the key papers. Literature searches were carried out using the following medical subject headings: “digestive
fistula”; “gastrointestinal fistula”; “enterocutaneous fistula”; “AND surgery”; “AND surgical treatment”. Because the
absence of randomized studies, we have considered the larger series or original techniques.
RESULTS: Surgical treatment of DF has two indications: to treat complications due to DF juice action such as peritonitis,
abscesses, gangrene, bleeding; and when a fistula fails to heal. In this case the surgical indication is often difficult to
establish, because of the risk of making an inconclusive act.
CONCLUSIONS: Indications to surgery, timing and choice of operation cannot often be standardized because they depend
on a mixture of DF and patient characteristics. In specific cases, involvement of nutritionist and plastic surgeon is