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Adhesions, General and After Surgery

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Adhesions Symptoms

Doctors associate signs and symptoms of adhesions with the problems an adhesion causes rather than from an adhesion directly. As a result, people experience many complaints based on where an adhesion forms and what it may disrupt. Typically, adhesions show no symptoms and go undiagnosed.

Most commonly, adhesions cause pain by pulling nerves, either within an organ tied down by an adhesion or within the adhesion itself.

  • Adhesions above the liver may cause pain with deep breathing.
  • Intestinal adhesions may cause pain due to obstruction during exercise or when stretching.
  • Adhesions involving the vagina or uterus may cause pain during intercourse.
  • Pericardial adhesions may cause chest pain.
  • It is important to note that not all pain is caused by adhesions and not all adhesions cause pain.
  • Small bowel obstruction (intestinal blockage) due to adhesions is a surgical emergency.
    • These adhesions may trigger waves of cramplike pain in your stomach. This pain, which can last seconds to minutes, often worsens if you eat food, which increases activity of the intestines.
    • Once the pain starts, you may vomit. This often relieves the pain.
    • Your stomach may become tender and progressively bloated.
    • You may hear high-pitched tinkling bowel sounds over your stomach, accompanied by increased gas and loose stools.
    • Fever is usually minimal.
  • Such intestinal blockage can sometimes correct itself. However, you must see your doctor. If the blockage progresses, these conditions may develop:
    • Your bowel stretches further.
    • Pain becomes constant and severe.
    • Bowel sounds disappear.
    • Gas and bowel movements stop.
    • Your belly becomes distended.
    • Fever may increase.
    • Further progression can tear your intestinal wall and contaminate your abdominal cavity with bowel contents.

When to Seek Medical Care

See a doctor any time you experience abdominal pain, pelvic pain, or unexplained fever. If you have undergone surgery or have a history of medical illness, discuss any changes in your recovery or condition with your doctor.

Call 911 and go to the nearest emergency department if chest pain occurs.

Exams and Tests

Doctors typically diagnose adhesions during a surgical procedure such as laparoscopy (putting a camera through a small hole into the stomach to visualize the organs). If they find adhesions, doctors usually can release them during the same surgery.

Studies such as blood tests, x-rays, and CT scans may be useful to determine the extent of an adhesion-related problem. However, a diagnosis of adhesions usually is made only during surgery. A physician, for example, can diagnose small bowel obstruction but cannot determine if adhesions are the cause without surgery.

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