Adhesions are tough, inflexible bands of scar tissue that form in the abdomen and attach abdominal organs to each other and to the bowel wall. They can also cause pain and sometimes lead to obstruction (blockages) in the bowel. Adhesions develop when the body’s repair mechanisms kick in after surgery, infection, injury (trauma), radiation or other factors. They form like fibrous webbing between tissues and organs, and affect the whole body, including the female reproductive organs (ovaries and fallopian tubes), the bowel, pelvic muscles, the heart, the back and the hand.
Symptoms caused by adhesions include abdominal pain, tenderness, bloating and difficulty with digestive function. They can also cause chronic pelvic pain, infertility, dyspareunia and bowel blockage. Adhesions can be found in 55% to 100% of people who undergo abdominal surgery, and in 55% to 100% of those undergoing gynecologic surgery (including C-sections).
A medical professional can identify adhesions by using a special X-ray called a computed tomography scan, an ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging or other tests. The doctor can also see the adhesions with a laparoscope or other keyhole surgical procedure. This is called laparoscopic adhesiolysis, and it involves making several small incisions or cuts into the abdomen to directly view and separate the adhesions. In general, a doctor will recommend surgery for adhesions if they are causing a complete or partial bowel blockage, or if they have not responded to treatment for signs of a blocked bowel.