The management of recurrent anal fistulas after previous surgery is usually challenging. The present study aimed to review the characteristics and treatment outcomes of recurrent anal fistulas as compared to primary anal fistulas.
The records of patients with anal fistula who underwent surgery were reviewed. Characteristics and treatment outcomes of patients with recurrent anal fistulas were compared to those of patients with primary anal fistula without a history of surgery.
The study included 138 patients with recurrent anal fistulas, 76.8% of which were complex. Failure of healing was recorded in 25 (18.1%) patients and fecal incontinence (FI) in 9 (6.5%). Patients with recurrent anal fistulas had significantly higher percentage of anterior, complex, and horseshoe fistulas than patients with primary fistulas. Surgery for recurrent anal fistulas was followed by a significantly higher rate of failure of healing than primary fistulas (18.1% vs. 9.8%, P=0.011), whereas the rates of FI were comparable amongst the two groups (6.5% vs. 2.8%, P=0.07). Patients who had more than two previous operations for anal fistula had a significantly higher rate of FI than patients who underwent one or two previous surgeries (20% vs. 3.7% vs. 14.3%, P=0.04), yet healing rates were comparable.
Recurrent anal fistulas were more complex than primary fistulas. Surgical treatment of recurrent anal fistula was followed by a significantly higher rate of failure of healing and similar rate of FI as compared to primary anal fistulas. The number of previous fistula surgeries had a significant effect on postoperative continence state.

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