Description and Causes

What are abdominal adhesions?

Abdominal adhesions are bands of tissue that form between abdominal tissues and organs. Normally, internal tissues and organs have slippery surfaces, which allow them to shift easily as the body moves. Adhesions cause tissues and organs to stick together.

The intestines are part of the digestive system. Abdominal adhesions can cause an intestinal obstruction.

Although most adhesions cause no symptoms or problems, others cause chronic abdominal or pelvic pain. Adhesions are also a major cause of intestinal obstruction and female infertility.

What causes abdominal adhesions?

Abdominal surgery is the most frequent cause of abdominal adhesions. Almost everyone who undergoes abdominal surgery develops adhesions; however, the risk is greater after operations on the lower abdomen and pelvis, including bowel and gynecological surgeries. Adhesions can become larger and tighter as time passes, causing problems years after surgery.

Surgery-induced causes of abdominal adhesions include:

  • tissue incisions, especially those involving internal organs
  • handling of internal organs
  • the drying out of internal organs and tissues
  • contact of internal tissues with foreign materials, such as gauze, surgical gloves, and stitches
  • blood or blood clots that were not rinsed out during surgery

A less common cause of abdominal adhesions is inflammation from sources not related to surgery, including:

  • appendicitis—in particular, appendix rupture
  • radiation treatment for cancer
  • gynecological infections
  • abdominal infections

Rarely, abdominal adhesions form without apparent cause.

How can abdominal adhesions cause intestinal obstruction?

Abdominal adhesions can kink, twist, or pull the intestines out of place, causing an intestinal obstruction. An intestinal obstruction partially or completely restricts the movement of food or stool through the intestines.

Intestinal obstruction requires immediate medical attention.

How can abdominal adhesions cause female infertility?

Abdominal adhesions cause female infertility by preventing fertilized eggs from reaching the uterus, where fetal development takes place. Adhesions can kink, twist, or pull out of place the fallopian tubes, which carry eggs from the ovaries—where eggs are stored and released—to the uterus.

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