Adhesions are fibrous bands of scar tissue that form after abdominal, pelvic, or thoracic surgery. They are part of the healing process and develop when the body’s repair mechanisms respond to any tissue disturbance, such as during surgery.
Adhesion formation is a common result of surgery, occurring in up to 93% of people who undergo abdominal or pelvic surgery. Most adhesions are painless and do not cause complications. However, they are the most common cause 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. Some people may go an entire lifetime without experiencing symptoms from their adhesions. As scar tissue begins to form the motion of the small intestines becomes restricted, and the passage of food through the gastrointestinal tract slows. The intestines may become wrapped around these fibrous bands, becoming kinked, and causing a blockage. In severe cases, the constriction caused by the adhesions may cut off the blood supply to the segment of intestine, leading to strangulation and tissue death. In these situations emergent surgical intervention is required.