Abdominal Adhesions (Scar Tissue in the Abdomen)

How are abdominal adhesions and intestinal obstructions diagnosed?

No tests are available to diagnose adhesions, and adhesions cannot be seen through imaging techniques such as X-rays or ultrasound. Most adhesions are found during exploratory surgery. An intestinal obstruction, however, can be seen through abdominal X-rays, barium contrast studies - also called a lower GI series - and computerized tomography.

How are abdominal adhesions and intestinal obstructions treated?

Treatment for abdominal adhesions is usually not necessary, as most do not cause problems. Surgery is currently the only way to break adhesions that cause pain, intestinal obstruction, or fertility problems. More surgery, however, carries the risk of additional adhesions and is avoided when possible.

A complete intestinal obstruction usually requires immediate surgery. A partial obstruction can sometimes be relieved with a liquid or low-residue diet. A low-residue diet is high in dairy products, low in fiber, and more easily broken down into smaller particles by the digestive system.

Can abdominal adhesions be prevented?

Abdominal adhesions are difficult to prevent. However, careful, gentle, surgical techniques can minimize the formation of adhesions.

Laparoscopic surgery avoids opening up the abdomen with a large incision. Instead, the abdomen is inflated with gas (carbon dioxide) while special surgical tools and a video camera are threaded through a few, small abdominal incisions. Inflating the abdomen gives the surgeon room to operate.

If a large abdominal incision is required, a special filmlike material (Seprafilm) can be inserted between organs or between the organs and the abdominal incision at the end of surgery. The filmlike material, which looks similar to wax paper, is absorbed by the body in about a week and tends to minimize adhesion formation.

Other steps during surgery to reduce adhesion formation include using starch- and latex-free gloves, handling tissues and organs gently, shortening surgery time, and not allowing tissues to dry out.

Medically reviewed by Martin E Zipser, MD; American board of Surgery

SOURCE: National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). Abdominal. Last update: 4/25/2011 Adhesions.

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