What Are Abdominal Adhesions? Everything to Know

Medically Reviewed By Cynthia Taylor Chavoustie, MPAS, PA-C
Was this helpful?
3

Abdominal adhesions are bands of scar-like tissue that form between either two organs, or an organ and the abdominal wall. Abdominal surgery is the most common cause of abdominal adhesions. In some cases, abdominal adhesions do not cause any symptoms. When symptoms do occur, you are most likely to experience chronic abdominal pain.

Abdominal adhesions can also cause organs, such as the intestines, to twist or pull. This can lead to serious complications, such as intestinal blockage.

Read on to find out more about the causes and symptoms of abdominal adhesions. This guide also looks at treatment options, when to see a doctor, and more.

What are the symptoms of abdominal adhesions?

A person is clutching their stomach.
Yazgi Bayram/Getty Images

You may not experience any symptoms with abdominal adhesions. The most common symptom people experience is chronic abdominal pain.

Learn more about what can cause abdominal pain.

Intestinal obstruction

You may experience symptoms of intestinal obstruction. This occurs when the adhesions cause your intestines to pull, twist, or kink. This can create a complete or partial blockage in the digestive route.

Symptoms of intestinal obstruction include:

Learn more about intestinal obstruction.

What causes abdominal adhesions?

Abdominal surgery is the most common cause of abdominal adhesions. It is important to note that abdominal adhesions do not occur due to a problem during surgery. Your body forms adhesions in response to being open and handled during surgery.

According to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders, you are more likely to develop abdominal adhesions if you have surgery on your lower abdomen and pelvis.

In some cases, you may not experience symptoms or complications of abdominal adhesions for many years after the surgery, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Other possible causes of abdominal adhesions include:

Contact your doctor if you have concerns about the causes of abdominal adhesions.

Find out more about symptoms never to ignore after surgery.

What are the complications of abdominal adhesions?

The two main complications of abdominal adhesions are intestinal obstruction and female infertility.

Intestinal obstruction

If abdominal adhesions cause intestinal obstruction, this can partially or completely prevent fluids, food, stool, or air from moving through the intestines. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, abdominal adhesions are the most common cause of small intestine obstruction.

Intestinal obstruction can prevent blood flow to the part of the intestine that the adhesion blocked off. This in turn can cause the death of intestinal tissue, as well as peritonitis, which is an infection in the lining of the abdominal cavity.

Intestinal obstruction can be a medical emergency. It is important to contact your doctor or seek medical advice if you experience symptoms of intestinal obstruction.

Female infertility

Abdominal adhesions can cause the fallopian tubes to twist, kink, or pull out of place. This prevents the fertilized egg from reaching the uterus.

Learn more about female infertility.

What are the treatments for abdominal adhesions?

You may not require any treatments for abdominal adhesions if they do not cause any symptoms or complications.

If your doctor believes treatment is necessary, they will order a procedure called adhesiolysis.

Where possible, a surgeon will perform laparoscopic adhesiolysis. This minimally invasive surgery reduces the risk of further adhesion formations, which is a risk with open adhesiolysis. Laparoscopic surgery can also reduce the length of your hospital stay.

In cases of intestinal obstruction, open surgery may be required. Your doctor and surgeon will discuss which type of procedure they recommend and what you can expect during recovery.

Learn about laparoscopy.

What is the best diet for abdominal adhesions?

If abdominal adhesions are causing intestinal obstruction, your doctor may advise you to make certain changes to your diet while you’re waiting for your operation to remove the obstruction. This might include following a low-fiber, liquid-based diet.

Your doctor can advise you on which foods and drinks to include in your eating plan. They may also refer you to a nutritionist and dietitian to help you create a plan that makes sure you are getting all the necessary nutrients.

When should I see a doctor?

Contact your doctor as soon as you have concerns about abdominal adhesions. It is important to seek medical advice if you experience symptoms of intestinal obstruction.

Your doctor will examine you and advise on whether they recommend surgery.

How do doctors diagnose abdominal adhesions?

To assist with diagnosing abdominal adhesions, your doctor may perform a physical examination and request a full medical history. In particular, they may review your medical history to see if you have had any abdominal surgeries.

There are no specific tests that identify abdominal adhesions. However, some tests can help rule out other causes or help your doctor evaluate the degree of obstruction.

Possible tests your doctor may order include:

  • imaging tests, such as computed tomography scan and X-rays with special contrasts, such as barium
  • blood tests to rule out other possible causes or to assess the severity of intestinal obstruction
  • laparoscopic or open surgery to look for abdominal adhesions and other problems, such as intestinal obstruction

Your doctor will be able to tell you more about which tests they order and answer any questions you may have.

Can I prevent abdominal adhesions?

There are steps that your surgeon can take to minimize the risk of abdominal adhesions developing. These include:

  • performing laparoscopic surgery instead of open surgery when possible
  • gently handling tissue to reduce the risk of damage
  • using power-free gloves and lint-free tools
  • covering damaged tissue at the end of the procedure to keep tissues separated during the healing process

It is important to discuss prevention with your surgeon if you have concerns about abdominal adhesions.

Summary

Abdominal adhesions commonly form after abdominal surgery. They may also develop due to abdominal inflammation or infection.

Some people experience chronic abdominal pain with abdominal adhesions. However, you may not experience any symptoms. If this is the case, your doctor may not recommend treatment for abdominal adhesions.

If you experience other symptoms or if you develop intestinal obstruction, your doctor may recommend surgery. Intestinal obstruction is a serious complication that can result in perforation of the intestines and severe illness.

It is important to contact your doctor if you have concerns about abdominal adhesions or complications, such as intestinal obstruction. They can order tests to reach an accurate diagnosis and advise on which treatments they recommend.

Was this helpful?
3
Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Taylor Chavoustie, MPAS, PA-C
Last Review Date: 2022 Sep 30
View All Symptoms and Conditions Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.