Abdominal Adhesions (Scar Tissue in the Abdomen)

woman with abdominal pain

Abdominal Adhesions Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Medical Author: Jay W. Marks, MD
Medical Editor: Bhupinder Anand, MD

Abdominal adhesions are important because they are a common cause of abdominal symptoms, particularly abdominal pain. The term adhesions refers to the formation of scar tissue between bowel loops (small or large intestine) and the inner lining of the abdominal wall (peritoneal lining) or with other organs within the abdominal cavity (liver, gallbladder, uterus and its attached Fallopian tubes and ovaries, and urinary bladder). Adhesions can also form between loops of the small and large intestine.

Adhesions form when inflammation occurs on the surface of the abdominal organs or the peritoneal lining of the abdominal cavity; the formation of scar tissue is a normal part of healing when there is inflammation. The cause of the inflammation can vary considerably. It may be due to inflammation of an organ (for example, cholecystitis, appendicitis), prior surgery in which organs or the peritoneal lining are cut, inflammation of the peritoneal lining of the abdomen (peritonitis), or abdominal radiation treatment. Other causes of inflammation and scarring include:...

Abdominal adhesions facts*

*Abdominal adhesions facts Medically Edited by: William C. Shiel, Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

  • Abdominal adhesions are bands of scar tissue that form between abdominal tissues and organs, causing them to stick together.
  • Symptoms caused by abdominal adhesions vary; however, most adhesions do not cause symptoms.
  • Typical symptoms caused by abdominal adhesions include abdominal discomfort around the belly button that is cramp-like followed by distention of the abdomen. Symptoms may become intense with obstruction.
  • Abdominal surgery is the most frequent cause of abdominal adhesions. Other causes of abdominal adhesions include inflammation of an organ such as cholecystitis or appendicitis, peritonitis, foreign objects left inside the abdomen at the time of surgery, bleeding into the peritoneal cavity, or inflammatory conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease.
  • At the sites of where abdominal adhesions occur, the intestine can twist on itself, and the twisting may obstruct the normal movement of its contents (particularly in the small intestine).
  • Abdominal adhesions that cause a complete intestinal obstruction may be life-threatening and require immediate medical attention and often surgery.
  • Abdominal adhesions can cause female infertility by preventing fertilized eggs from reaching the uterus, where fetal development takes place.
  • No tests are available to diagnose adhesions, and adhesions cannot be seen through imaging techniques such as X-rays or ultrasound.
  • An intestinal obstruction can be seen through abdominal X-rays, barium contrast studies (lower or upper GI series), and computerized tomography (CT).
  • The treatment for abdominal adhesions is either laparoscopic surgery or open surgery whereby the adhesions are cut by scalpel or electric current.

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