The Pittsburgh Fistula Classification System: A Standardized Scheme for the Description of Palatal Fistulas

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Objective:Vague terminology is a problem in cleft palate research. No classification scheme for palatal fistulas has been proposed to date. Although a well-healed velum is a significant outcome of palatoplasty, it is nearly impossible to compare fistula-related palatoplasty results in the literature or in medical records without a standardized vocabulary. We endeavor to devise a palatal fistula classification system that may have clinical and research applicability.Design:PubMed was searched for definitions and classifications of palatal fistula as well as incidence and recurrence rates of this outcome. Next, a 25-year retrospective review of our Cleft Center's records was performed, and fistulas were identified (n = 641 charts reviewed). The fistula descriptions yielded by this chart review were evaluated in the context of anatomical descriptions in the literature, and a clinician-friendly classification scheme was designed.Results:A literature review failed to reveal a standardized fistula classification system. An anatomically based numerical fistula classification system was devised: type I, bifid uvula; type II, soft palate; type III, junction of the soft and hard palate; type IV, hard palate; type V, junction of the primary and secondary palates (for Veau IV clefts); type VI, lingual alveolar; and type VII, labial alveolar.Conclusions:We propose a standardized numerical classification system for palatal fistulas. Its clinical adoption may prospectively clarify ambiguities in the literature and facilitate future cleft palate research and clinical practice.

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