A vaginal fistula is a hole that develops between the vagina or uterus and digestive system organs. A rectovaginal fistula, abbreviated at times as RVF, is a fistula that develops between the vagina and the rectum. It is an abnormal connection between the vagina and rectum that can result in the passage of stool or gas through the vagina. Other types of vaginal fistulas include colovaginal fistulas and enterovaginal fistulas. Colovaginal fistulas develop between the vagina and large intestine. Enterovaginal fistulas develop between the vagina and small intestine.
Symptoms of a rectovaginal fistula include pain in the pelvic area, pain during sexual activity, foul-smelling vaginal discharge, recurrent vaginal or urinary tract infections, problems controlling bowel movements, or passing stool or gas through the vagina.
What can cause a rectovaginal fistula?
A rectovaginal fistula is caused by an injury to the area, which may occur due to a trauma or medical condition. One of the most common causes of rectovaginal fistulas is an injury during childbirth. Tears in the perineum that extend to the bowel may occur due to a long, difficult, or obstructive labor. Additionally, an infection of an episiotomy may result in a rectovaginal fistula. Another common cause of rectovaginal fistulas is Crohn’s disease.
This is a type of inflammatory bowel disease affecting the lining of the digestive tract which can cause abdominal pain, anemia, weight loss, diarrhea, and fatigue. Rectovaginal fistulas may also be caused by cancerous tumors in the rectum, cervix, uterus, vagina, or anal canal, as well as radiation therapy for cancers. Prior surgery in the lower pelvic region can also in some rare instances result in the development of a fistula.
If a fistula cannot be identified through a physical exam, it may be revealed through imaging or other diagnostic studies. These studies can include CT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds, blue dye tests, vaginograms or barium enemas, or anorectal manometry.
How is a rectovaginal fistula treated?
Rectovaginal fistulas are corrected with surgery. Antibiotics may be required prior to the surgery if the area around the fistula is infected. Surgery may be performed by a colorectal surgeon or gynecologic surgeon. The surgeon may sew an anal fistula plug or patch of biological tissue into the fistula so that the tissue grows into the patch and heals the fistula.
The surgeon may also use a tissue graft from a nearby part of the body, or fold healthy tissue into the fistula opening. In cases where the person has experienced scarring or tissue damage from a previous surgery or radiation treatment, ongoing infection or fecal contamination, an abscess, or tumor, a colostomy may be required. The colostomy will divert stool through an opening in the abdomen. After the colostomy is performed, the surgeon will be able to repair the fistula eight to twelve weeks later. Once the fistula has healed, the colostomy can be reversed.
Am I eligible for Social Security Disability if I have a rectovaginal fistula?
Social Security disability benefits are available to those who are unable to perform normal work activity due to a severe medical condition which will last or is expected to last for at least one year. A rectovaginal fistula can cause incredible distress in the sufferer, both physically due to associated pain and emotionally. Leakage of stool may cause the person to need extra bathroom breaks beyond what a normal employer would tolerate. Additionally, a significant amount of time from work may be missed if multiple surgeries are required, especially in cases where a colostomy and subsequent fistula repair are required.
If you are suffering from a rectovaginal fistula and having difficulty performing normal work activities, LaBovick Law Group can help you obtain Social Security Disability benefits.
Qualifications for Social Security Disability
Social Security Disability Insurance benefits are funded through taxes which you have paid on your earnings from work activity. Therefore, to be eligible for SSDI, one must have worked and paid taxes on these earnings for at least 5 of the last 10 years, approximately. You must establish that you became disabled before your “date last insured” in order to qualify for benefits. To determine what your Date Last Insured, or DLI, is, you can contact the Social Security Administration or obtain the information through Social Security’s online portal.
Additionally, to be eligible for benefits, you cannot engage in what Social Security refers to as “substantial gainful activity.” Substantial gainful activity is defined as earnings at or above $1350 gross per month in 2022. This figure is adjusted on an annual basis.
Social Security’s evaluation process
Once you have met the technical requirements noted above, Social Security will determine whether your impairments are severe. This is established through your medical records and is the primary source of documentation Social Security relies upon to assess the severity of your conditions.
If you are suffering from a rectovaginal fistula, providers of significance include your PCP, gynecologist, gastroenterologist, surgeons, and any facilities where you have been hospitalized for your surgeries. In addition to the fistula, Social Security will evaluate any other conditions you may have – for example, if your fistula was caused by Crohn’s disease, Crohn’s disease will be evaluated as well.
Social Security will then assess your residual functional capacity. This is an assessment of the most you can do of certain work-related activities, such as standing, walking, sitting, and lifting. It is helpful to obtain a supporting statement from your physician regarding your ability to perform these activities.
LaBovick Law Group provides a questionnaire your doctors can complete which addresses the specific areas which SSA uses to evaluate your functional capacity. This includes the need for extra breaks to deal with pain or change a colostomy bag as well as extra absences from work due to your conditions. SSA will then determine if you can return to your past work, and if not, whether there are any other jobs which you can perform with your limitations.
LaBovick Law Group is here to help
Living with a rectovaginal fistula is a frustrating and painful experience. The attorneys at LaBovick Law Group are ready to help you obtain the SSDI benefits you deserve. Give us a call today at (561) 625-8400.