Abdominal adhesions are scar tissue that form between two or more abdominal organs or within an abdominal organ, like your small intestine. These adhesions are common in the wake of abdominal surgery as your body works to close incision sites. The tissue that ends up forming in these areas is a little more fibrous and can end up leading to abdominal adhesions.
While these adhesions are very common after abdominal surgery, affecting roughly 90 percent of patients, more often than not they are asymptomatic, meaning you won’t notice any uncomfortable or life threatening symptoms. However, if symptoms do develop, it could be a sign that your adhesion is causing a problem within your digestive tract. In today’s blog, we take a closer look at symptomatic abdominal adhesions and how they are treated.
Symptoms Of Abdominal Adhesions
In most cases, abdominal adhesions are harmless and do not cause symptoms. When the adhesion forms inside the loops of the small intestine, it’s similar to adding a very small kink in a garden hose. Water can still pass easily enough through the hose, as can digested food product through your small intestine. However, if the adhesion is large or ends up causing a partial or large blockage in your intestines, it’s similar to a severe kink in a garden hose. Nothing can pass through at a normal rate, which can lead to symptoms like:
- Abdominal pain
If there is a severe blockage, you may also be at risk for tissue death if blood flow to the area is compromised or a greater infection risk. In women, certain adhesions can also reduce their ability to become pregnant if the adhesion is in the pelvis or uterus.
Treating Abdominal Adhesions
Treating symptomatic abdominal adhesions is possible, but because the adhesion was likely formed as a result of surgical healing, going back in for another operation can lead to more adhesion formation. That’s why so much attention is paid to reducing the risk of allowing a problematic adhesion to develop in the first place. Surgeons work to reduce symptomatic adhesion development by:
- Performing Laparoscopic Surgeries – Minimally invasive surgery limits the size of the incisions that needs to be made in order to access the abdominal cavity. Larger incisions carry a greater risk of leading to a symptomatic abdominal adhesion compared to smaller incisions, which is why laparoscopic techniques are preferred if possible.
- Specialized Tools – Certain internal organs can sometimes be covered with a special film-like barrier that reduces the risk of organs adhering to one another during the healing process. This film is eventually absorbed by the body.
It’s also helpful to trust any elective abdominal surgery to a surgeon with extensive experience. Handling tissues gently and working to keep any foreign materials out of the abdominal cavity during surgery can also reduce your risk of symptomatic adhesions, so trust your elective abdominal operation to a surgeon like Dr. Bhatti with decades of surgical experience correcting similar issues.
As we mentioned above, asymptomatic adhesions will not be treated, but if you are having minor symptoms that you suspect are caused by a previous abdominal surgery, talk to a GI specialist. They may be able to treat the adhesion with a minimally invasive procedure, but it could also lead to more adhesions, so the benefits and drawbacks of surgery will be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. If the adhesion is causing an intestinal obstruction, you’ll want to seek treatment right away.
Gastrointestinal specialists will quickly work to determine if the obstruction requires surgery or not. If surgery is required, the blockage will be removed and the adhesions will be released, and doctors will regularly monitor your intestines to determine if adhesions could cause future blockages. If surgeons believe that they can get rid of the blockage without surgery, they may give you intravenous fluids and insert a tube into your stomach to remove the contents of your stomach above the obstruction. Sometimes this helps free the obstruction, but if it doesn’t, surgery will do the trick.
Abdominal adhesions are an unfortunate reality following abdominal surgery, but when the procedure is performed by a skilled surgeon, your risk of symptomatic adhesions drops significantly. Let Dr. Bhatti and his team work to reduce your risk of symptomatic abdominal adhesions if you need an abdominal operation. For more information, or for help with a different GI issue, reach out to his clinic today at (952) 368-3800.