Adhesions are fibrous bands that form between tissues and organs, often as a result of injury during surgery. They may be thought of as internal scar tissue that connects tissues not normally connected.
Abdominal adhesions (or intra-abdominal adhesions) are most commonly caused by abdominal surgical procedures. The adhesions start to form within hours of surgery and may cause internal organs to attach to the surgical site or to other organs in the abdominal cavity. Adhesion-related twisting and pulling of internal organs can result in complications such as abdominal pain or intestinal obstruction.
Small bowel obstruction (SBO) is a significant consequence of post-surgical adhesions. A SBO may be caused when an adhesion pulls or kinks the small intestine and prevents the flow of content through the digestive tract. It can occur 20 years or more after the initial surgical procedure, if a previously benign adhesion allows the small bowel to spontaneously twist around itself and obstruct. SBO is an emergent, possibly fatal condition without immediate medical attention.
According to statistics provided by the National Hospital Discharge Survey approximately 2,000 people die every year in the USA from obstruction due to adhesions. Depending on the severity of the obstruction, a partial obstruction may relieve itself with conservative medical intervention. However, many obstructive events require surgery to lyse the offending adhesion(s) or resect the affected small intestine.