Adhesions are bands of scar-like tissue that form between two surfaces inside the body and cause them to stick together.
Pelvic adhesion; Intraperitoneal adhesion; Intrauterine adhesion
With movement of the body, internal organs such as the bowel or uterus are normally able to shift and to slide past each other. This is because these tissues and organs in the abdominal cavity have smooth, slippery surfaces. Inflammation (swelling), surgery, or injury can cause adhesions to form and prevent this movement. Adhesions can occur almost anywhere in the body, including:
Adhesions can become larger or tighter over time. Problems may occur if the adhesions cause an organ or body part to:
The risk of forming adhesions is high after bowel or female organ surgeries. Surgery using a laparoscope is less likely to cause adhesions than open surgery.
Other causes of adhesions in the abdomen or pelvis include:
Adhesions around the joints may occur:
Adhesions in joints, tendons, or ligaments make it harder to move the joint. They may also cause pain.
Adhesions in the belly (abdomen) may cause a blockage of the intestines. Symptoms include:
Adhesions in the pelvis may cause long-term (chronic) pelvic pain.
Most of the time, the adhesions cannot be seen using x-rays or imaging tests.
Endoscopy (a way of looking inside the body using a flexible tube that has a small camera on the end) may help diagnose adhesions:
Surgery may be done to separate the adhesions. This can let the organ regain normal movement and reduce symptoms. However, the risk for more adhesions goes up with more surgeries.
Depending on the location of the adhesions, a barrier may be placed at the time of surgery to help reduce the chance of the adhesions returning.
The outcome is good in most cases.
Adhesions can cause various disorders, depending on the tissues affected.
Contact your health care provider if you have:
Kuemmerle JF. Inflammatory and anatomic diseases of the intestine, peritoneum, mesentery, and omentum. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 133.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Abdominal adhesions. www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/abdominal-adhesions. Updated June 2019. Accessed April 11, 2022.
Yepuri N, Pruekprasert N. Cooney RN. Surgical complications. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 21st ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2022:chap 12.
Reviewed By: John D. Jacobson, MD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.