An adhesion is a band of scar tissue that binds 2 parts of your tissue that are not normally joined together. Adhesions may appear as thin sheets of tissue similar to plastic wrap or as thick fibrous bands.
The tissue develops when the body’s repair mechanisms respond to any tissue disturbance, such as surgery, infection, trauma, or radiation. Although adhesions can occur anywhere, the most common locations are within the stomach, the pelvis, and the heart.
- Most adhesions are painless and do not cause complications. However, adhesions cause about 60% of small bowel obstructions in adults and are believed to contribute to the development of chronic pelvic pain.
- Adhesions typically begin to form within the first few days after surgery, but they may not produce symptoms for months or even years. As scar tissue begins to restrict motion of the small intestines, passing food through the digestive system becomes progressively more difficult. The bowel may become blocked.
- In extreme cases, adhesions may form fibrous bands around a segment of an intestine. This constricts blood flow and leads to tissue death.
Adhesions develop as the body attempts to repair itself. This normal response can occur after surgery, infection, trauma, or radiation. Repair cells within the body cannot tell the difference between one organ and another. If an organ undergoes repair and comes into contact with another part of itself, or another organ, scar tissue may form to connect the 2 surfaces.
Steps are taken during surgery to try and minimize the formation of adhesions. Some of these may include: shortening surgical time, keeping the tissues moist, gentle handling of any tissues or organs, and using starch-free and latex-free gloves. Several surgical products have also been developed to try to help prevent adhesions from forming during surgery. Film-like sheets are sometimes used between organs or body surfaces after large, open surgical procedures.
Adhesions requiring surgery commonly come back because surgery itself causes adhesions.