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Adhesion (medicine)

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Adhesion (medicine)

Adhesion (medicine)
Classification and external resources
Adhesions after appendectomy
ICD-10 K56.5, N73.6, N99.2, N99.4
ICD-9 560.81, 614.6
MedlinePlus 001493
MeSH D000267

Adhesions are scar tissue that connects tissues not normally connected.


Adhesions form as a natural part of the body’s healing process after surgery in a similar way that a scar forms. The term "adhesion" is applied when the scar extends from within one tissue across to another, usually across a virtual space such as the peritoneal cavity. Adhesion formation post-surgery typically occurs when two injured surfaces are close to one another. This often causes inflammation and causes fibrin deposits onto the damaged tissues.[2] The fibrin then connects the two adjacent structures where damage of the tissues occurred. The fibrin acts like a glue to seal the injury and builds the fledgling adhesion, said at this point to be "fibrinous." In body cavities such as the peritoneal, pericardial and synovial cavities, a family of fibrinolytic enzymes may act to limit the extent of the initial fibrinous adhesion, and may even dissolve it. In many cases however the production or activity of these enzymes are compromised because of injury, and the fibrinous adhesion persists. If this is allowed to happen, tissue repair cells such as macrophages, fibroblasts and blood vessel cells, penetrate into the fibrinous adhesion, and lay down collagen and other matrix substances to form a permanent fibrous adhesion. In 2002, Giuseppe Martucciello's research group showed a possible role could be played by microscopic foreign bodies (FB) accidentally contaminating the operative field during surgery.[3] These data suggested that two different stimuli are necessary for adhesion formation: a direct lesion of the mesothelial layers and a solid substrate (FB).

While some adhesions do not cause problems, others can prevent organs from moving freely, sometimes causing organs to become twisted or pulled from their normal positions.

Regions affected

Adhesive capsulitis

In the case of adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder (also known as frozen shoulder), adhesions grow between the shoulder joint surfaces, restricting motion.

Abdominal adhesions

Abdominal adhesions (or intra-abdominal adhesions) are most commonly caused by abdominal surgical procedures. The adhesions start to form within hours after 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.[4] 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.

Pelvic adhesions

Pelvic adhesions are a form of abdominal adhesions in the reproduction or as a cause of chronic pelvic pain. Other than surgery, endometriosis, and pelvic inflammatory disease are typical causes.

Surgery inside the uterine cavity (e.g., suction Dilation and curettage, myomectomy, endometrial ablation) can result in Asherman's Syndrome (also known as intrauterine adhesions), a cause of infertility.

The impairment of reproductive performance from adhesions can happen through many mechanisms, all of which usually stem from the distortion of the normal tubo-ovarian relationship. This distortion can prevent an ovum from traveling to the fimbriated end of the fallopian tube.[5]

A meta-analysis in 2012 came to the conclusion that there is only little evidence for the surgical principle that using less invasive techniques, introducing less foreign bodies or causing less ischemia reduces the extent and severity of adhesions in pelvic surgery.[6]

Pericardial adhesions

Adhesions forming after cardiac surgery between the heart and the sternum place the heart at risk of catastrophic injury during re-entry for a subsequent procedure.

Peridural adhesions

Adhesions and scarring as epidural fibrosis may occur after spinal surgery that restricts the free movement of nerve roots, causing tethering and leading to pain.

Peritendinous adhesions

Adhesions and scarring occurring around tendons after hand surgery restrict the gliding of tendons in their sheaths and compromise digital mobility.

Association with surgery

Applying [11]

An unfortunate fact is that adhesions are unavoidable in surgery, and the main treatment for adhesions is more surgery. Besides intestinal obstructions caused by adhesions, which can be seen through an X-ray, there are no diagnostic tests available besides surgery to physically see and accurately diagnose an adhesion.

Abdominal surgery

A study in Digestive Surgery showed that more than 90% of patients develop adhesions following open abdominal surgery and 55–100% of women develop adhesions following pelvic surgery.[12] Adhesions from prior abdominal or pelvic surgery can obscure visibility and access at subsequent abdominal or pelvic surgery. In a very large study (29,790 participants) published in British medical journal The Lancet, 35% of patients who underwent open abdominal or pelvic surgery were readmitted to the hospital an average of two times after their surgery due to adhesion-related or adhesion-suspected complications.[13] Over 22% of all readmissions occurred in the first year after the initial surgery.[13] Adhesion-related complexity at reoperation adds significant risk to subsequent surgical procedures.[14]

Certain organs and structures in the body are more prone to adhesion formation than others. The [2]

Carpal tunnel surgery

The long-term use of a wrist splint during recovery from carpal tunnel surgery can cause adhesion formation.[16] For that reason, wrist splints can be used for short term for protection in work environments, but otherwise, splints do not improve grip strength, lateral pinch strength, or bowstringing.[16] Beyond adhesion they can cause stiffness or flexibility problems.[16]


There are three general types of adhesions: filmy, vascular, and cohesive.[17] However, their pathophysiology is similar.[17]


  1. ^ "adhesion" at Dorland's Medical Dictionary
  2. ^ a b diZerega, Gere; Campeau, Joseph (2001). "Peritoneal repair and post-surgical adhesion formation". Human Reproduction Update 7 (6): 547–555.  
  3. ^ Torre M, Favre A, Pini Prato A, Brizzolara A, Martucciello G (December 2002). "Histologic study of peritoneal adhesions in children and in a rat model". Pediatr. Surg. Int. 18 (8): 673–6.  
  4. ^ See article at:
  5. ^ Diamond, Michael; Freeman, Michael (2001). "Clinical implications of postsurgical adhesions". Human Reproduction Update 7 (6): 567–576.  
  6. ^ Ten Broek, R. P. G.; Kok- Krant, N.; Bakkum, E. A.; Bleichrodt, R. P.; Van Goor, H. (2012). "Different surgical techniques to reduce post-operative adhesion formation: A systematic review and meta-analysis". Human Reproduction Update 19 (1): 12–25.  
  7. ^ "Adhesion prevention: a standard of care". Medical Association Communications. American Society of Reproductive Medicine. February 2002. 
  8. ^ a b "Adhesion Prevention: A Standard of Care". American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Medical Association Communications. Retrieved 23 May 2014. 
  9. ^ Peng, Y; Zheng M; Ye Q; Chen X; Yu B; Liu B (2009). "Heated and humidified CO2 prevents hypothermia, peritoneal injury, and intra-abdominal adhesions during prolonged laparoscopic insufflations". J Surg Res 151 (1): 40–47.  
  10. ^ "Adhesions". Better Health Channel. Retrieved 20 February 2014. 
  11. ^ "Abdominal Adhesions (Scar Tissue)". Medicinenet. Retrieved 20 February 2014. 
  12. ^ Liakakos, T; Thomakos, N; Fine, PM; Dervenis, C; Young, RL (2001). "Peritoneal adhesions: etiology, pathophysiology, and clinical significance. Recent advances in prevention and management". Digestive surgery 18 (4): 260–73.  
  13. ^ a b Ellis, H.; Moran, B.; Thompson, J.; Parker, M.; Wilson, M.; Menzies, D.; McGuire, A.; Lower, A.; Hawthorn, R.; Obrien, F. (1999). "Adhesion-related hospital readmissions after abdominal and pelvic surgery: A retrospective cohort study". The Lancet 353 (9163): 1476.  
  14. ^ Van Der Krabben, AA; Dijkstra, FR; Nieuwenhuijzen, M; Reijnen, MM; Schaapveld, M; Van Goor, H (2000). "Morbidity and mortality of inadvertent enterotomy during adhesiotomy". The British journal of surgery 87 (4): 467–71.  
  15. ^ Weibel, A.; Majno, G. (1973). "Peritoneal adhesions and their relation to abdominal surgery. A postmortem study.". The American Journal of Surgery 126 (3): 345–353.  
  16. ^ a b c  , which cites
  17. ^ a b "Adhesions Overview". Women's Surgery Group. Retrieved 23 May 2014. 

External links

  • International Adhesions Society
  • The UK Adhesions Society
  • eMedicineHealth: Adhesions, General and After Surgery
  • GPnotebook
  • Abdominal Adhesions (Harvard Health Publications)
  • International Support Group for Asherman's Syndrome (intrauterine adhesions)
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