Intestinal Adhesions

What are intestinal adhesions?

Intestinal adhesions are bands of scar tissue that can connect parts of the intestines together. Or they may connect your intestines to other organs or to the wall of your belly.

Adhesions usually do not cause problems, unless they block part of your intestines. A band of tissue may press on the intestines or pull part of the intestines out of place. If it gets kinked or trapped in a small space, the intestine may be blocked.

What is the cause?

Most adhesions form after surgery or an infection in the belly as part of the normal healing process. Sometimes adhesions are present at birth. Less common causes of adhesions include:

  • A ruptured appendix. The appendix is a small, finger-shaped pouch where the large and small intestines join.
  • Radiation treatment for cancer

What are the symptoms?

Adhesions in the intestines usually do not cause symptoms. If adhesions cause a blockage, symptoms may include:

  • Crampy pain that comes and goes
  • Vomiting
  • Swelling in your belly
  • Inability to pass gas or bowel movements

How are they diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. Tests may include:

  • X-rays
  • Barium enema: An X-ray taken of the belly after barium is inserted through the rectum to show the walls of the intestine and any possible problems. Barium is a liquid that helps your intestines show up well on the X-ray.
  • Blood tests

You may need surgery to find the cause of your pain.

How are they treated?

If your intestines are just partly blocked, you may need to stay in the hospital. You may have a tube put through your nose to remove the contents of your stomach, which relieves pressure in your intestines. If this relieves the blockage, your intestines may start working normally again.

Usually, surgery is needed to remove adhesions that are causing a complete blockage. Surgery may be done in two ways:

  • Laparoscopic surgery is done through several small cuts in the belly. A laparoscope is a lighted tube with a camera. Your provider can put the scope and tools into your belly through the small cuts.
  • Open surgery (with bigger cuts in the belly) may be needed to safely remove the adhesions.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. Ask your provider:
    • How and when you will hear your test results
    • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
    • How to take care of yourself at home
    • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
  • Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-08-07
Last reviewed: 2014-11-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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